Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’ve got another Sitcom Potpourri, where I’ll briefly discuss several of the short-lived comedies I won’t have the chance to highlight in full — offering drive-by commentary that culminates in the selection of an episode that I think best represents each series at large (based on what I’ve seen). Both this post and last week’s feature shows affiliated with Get Smart, which we just wrapped on Sitcom Tuesdays…
THE GOOD GUYS (Sept 1968 – Jan 1970, CBS)
Premise: The misadventures of two longtime friends — a diner owner and a cab driver.
Cast: Bob Denver, Herb Edelman, Joyce Van Patten
Creator/Writers: Jack Rose, Mel Tolkin, Milt Rosen, Leonard Stern, Perry Grant & Dick Bensfield, Jerry Davis, Arnold Horwitt, Albert E. Lewin, Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
Thoughts: Following the cancellation of He & She, Leonard Stern executive produced another multi-cammer for Talent Associates — this one a revamp of his favorite short-lived gem, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, which we talked about here. If you’ll recall, that was an early ‘60s update of The Honeymooners, specifically via its use of the “buddy comedy” design with an emphasis on slapstick. Well, The Good Guys follows that mold, with Herb Edelman standing in for John Astin, Bob Denver (off the recently cancelled Gilligan’s Island) as Marty Ingels, and Joyce Van Patten as Emmaline Henry. The biggest difference between the two, aside from the setting and differing professions, involves the personas of the leading men, particularly Bob Denver, whose reputation for juvenile fare precedes him, coloring both the material he’s given and the way he handles it. To wit, he makes the physical comedy appear less artful than it did on Dickens/Fenster (more like Gilligan’s than The Honeymooners), while also engendering, starting in his performance but moving outward into the storytelling, a reduced fidelity to logic, especially in comparison to Stern’s other multi-camera shows from this era, which feature actors more associated with realism and believability, and who are more comfortable playing in that modus operandi. In fact, I’m tempted to call The Good Guys a throwback because of the Gilligan’s style that Denver encourages as its de facto ambassador, not to mention that its inspirations, both The Honeymooners and even Dickens/Fenster, are also sillier and less character-led than both the forward-thinking He & She and even The Governor And J.J. (which we’ll be discussing next week). But this sensibility is not uncommon in the late ‘60s, and its popularity relative to those shows proves that it wasn’t out of place, nor was Denver, who isn’t on the same level of genius as Art Carney (and maybe even Marty Ingels), yet is as likable and watchable as ever.
Also, based on what I’ve seen, The Good Guys — which was created and run by Jack Rose, produced for most of its life by Jerry Davis, and creatively shaped by Dickens/Fenster’s Mel Tolkin (former head scribe for Sid Caesar) with some help from He & She’s Milt Rosen — has slightly better character work than I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, for its leads are better defined… despite the elevated falseness and the fact that there’s not as much evidence of their definitions in the storytelling, as they don’t really motivate plot, instead forcing narratives to be conventional and formulaic (a lot of “get rich quick” schemes in the Kramden/Norton vein), often based around gimmicks, like the recurring use of Denver’s former Gilligan’s costars, Alan Hale Jr. and Jim Backus, both of whom are funny, but undermine the sanctity of The Good Guys through the metatheatrical wink suggested by their very presence. Speaking of Gilligan’s, Denver wasn’t at ease with the multi-camera format and so Rose reluctantly dropped the live audience upon the series’ renewal, turning it into a full-fledged single-camera show in its slightly retooled and abbreviated second year, which moved to the beach, replaced Tolkin with former I Love Lucy scribes Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf, and accordingly became even goofier — an actual throwback. That said, the basic problems with the show transcend both seasons — broad hijinks that aren’t supported by a reliable character-based story apparatus (as the similarly liminal He & She developed) and performances that aren’t as genius or genuine as those on their predecessors (The Honeymooners and even I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster). To give you a soundbite: these people not only made better shows, other people made better versions of this show.
Episode Count: 42 episodes produced and broadcast; 25 from S1 and 17 from S2.
Episodes Seen: 11; from Season One: “Let ‘Em Eat Rolls,” “A View From The Terraza,” “The Courtship Of Miles Butterworth” [a.k.a. “Big Tom Gets Married”], “Love Comes To Annie Butterworth,” and from Season Two: “Fireman, Save My Diner,” “Biggest Madre Of Them All,” “No Orchids For The Diner,” The Eyes Have It,” “The Chimp,” “Communication Gap,” and “Art A La Carte”
Key Episode (of Seen): #3: “Let ‘Em Eat Rolls” (10/09/68)
Why: Produced as the pilot but aired third, this entry reveals the series’ intentions and therefore has a little more dramatic weight than the rest of the run. Also, it was shot before an audience, which bolsters the energy of the comic performances — something missing in the single-cam entries (even though Bob Denver clearly was more comfortable there).
THE DEBBIE REYNOLDS SHOW (Sept 1969 – April 1970, NBC)
Premise: A Los Angeles housewife longs to be a newspaper journalist like her husband.
Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Don Chastain, Tom Bosley, Patricia Smith, Bobby Riha
Creator/Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Phil Sharp, Joseph Bonaduce & Ann Marcus, David Ketchum & Bruce Shelly, Phil Leslie
Thoughts: I Love Lucy creator (and temporary Get Smart producer) Jess Oppenheimer’s third post-Lucy sitcom — following Angel and last week’s Glynis — is this multi-camera vehicle for Debbie Reynolds, and like everything he wrote, the parallels to Lucy are obvious, for he establishes a premise where Reynolds plays a housewife who longs to be in the career of her husband… not show business, but journalism, and newspapers specifically. And as with Lucy Ricardo — a seminal, influential example of how a comic objective can be used in weekly story to spark regular situation comedy, and a figure whom Oppenheimer deserves the most credit for creating — Debbie is willing to resort to all kinds of broad, wacky hijinks in order to get what she wants. That’s where the problem comes in, for Debbie Reynolds suffers like everything Oppenheimer and his early Lucy cohorts, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis, wrote after their shining collaboration: their ideas about character and situation comedy are stuck in the era of their greatest triumph, and now no longer as fresh. That is, they were writing weaker, outdated versions of I Love Lucy, and just as with The Mothers-In-Law and even some of Lucille Ball’s later series (for which Carroll and Davis contributed), the stories, the jokes, and the designs all indicate a mid-‘50s ethos that became more grating the more it ignored contemporary trends.
In this case, The Debbie Reynolds Show of 1969 is on the cusp of the sitcom’s move towards realism, so the heightened foolishness of Debbie and her single-dimensional objective is already barely palatable, while the two-couple construct is tired, and the plots (some of which are blatant remakes of old Lucys) are hackneyed. Never mind that, A) Reynolds is no Ball — especially when it comes to physical comedy, which this star strains to motivate (and like Denver, Reynolds forced the show to drop its live audience during the middle of its first season) — and B), the characters are all less defined than they were on I Love Lucy (particularly the husbands — we don’t talk enough about how Desi Arnaz’s unique qualities shaped a characterization for Ricky Ricardo that elevated the series and made it excellent), for the simple fact is I Love Lucy is a seminal work to which all character-based sitcoms owe much of their understanding of this genre, and The Debbie Reynolds Show is an inferior copy of Lucy in an era that needed to use its lessons to move forward (like He & She and Mary Tyler Moore), rather than looking back via a shoddy imitation. (And, incidentally, don’t be fooled by the myth that Reynolds quit her show over a noble stand against cigarette sponsorship. It was an expensive production that failed to maintain a 30-share; even if the network hadn’t negotiated out of its two-year guarantee with her, it’s likely they would have dropped it after 26 weeks anyway.)
Episode Count: 26 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: 20 — all but “A Present For Jim,” “Paper Butterfly,” “Casanova’s Kittens,” “Guru-vy,” “Mission: Improbable,” and “Those Dangerous Years” (incomplete copy)
Key Episode (of Seen): #10: “You Bet Your Wife” (11/25/69)
Why: This is the show’s funniest installment, utilizing the gimmicky game show construct — a common sitcom device that can either be used to exploit characters in a known format or to derive situational laughs based on the narrative trappings. Naturally, with ill-defined leads, this entry (co-written by Joe Bonaduce, who contributed to Dick Van Dyke, He & She, and That Girl) goes for the latter, contriving a scenario that allows for an amiable farce with mistaken and performed identity, all driven by Debbie’s desire to play on a game show with her neighbor filling in as her husband. This is a story-led motivation that, for instance, we could possibly see on a show like I Love Lucy… but it’d likely be better motivated there by Lucy’s macro objectives (like breaking out of the home), and propped up by better defined characterizations throughout, making it much more of a character-rooted affair. So, while this isn’t exactly a Lucy story (like some blatant ripoffs are), this one displays the series’ shortcomings, and its similar-yet-now-dated comic bent… but with results that are, by these lower standards, decent.
THE PARTNERS (Sept 1971 – Sept 1972, NBC)
Premise: Two bumbling detectives cause as many problems as they solve.
Cast: Don Adams, Rupert Crosse, John Doucette, Dick Van Patten, Robert Karvelas
Creator/Writers: Arne Sultan & Earl Barret, Don Adams, Bruce Howard, Ed Simmons
Thoughts: Don Adams reunites with Get Smart producer Arne Sultan in this single-camera comedy about two bumbling police officers who stumble into crime-solving despite being generally buffoonish, and with the star continuing to play a variation of his established persona best embodied by Maxwell Smart, the two series are obviously similar. However, after a pilot infused with a winking parody of the police drama — in the same way Adams’ earlier hit was about the spy genre — the rest of the run downplays satire as its major comic source, instead focusing on situational plots (some of which also include former Get Smart recurring player Robert Karvelas) and the easy laughs that come from two clumsy goofballs. Also, this time everyone is allowed to acknowledge the leads’ ineptitude, which creates both self-awareness and a more pronounced sense of realism — aided by the premise (which is naturally grittier) and the fact that it’s the early ‘70s, where lower concept attitudes make it easier to craft motivated humor from the characterizations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean The Partners has well-defined characters — no, Adams is the star and more of a screw-up than his partner (played by Rupert Crosse), but it’s hard to decipher individual personalities for either, and the latter especially, as sometimes he’s a straight man, and sometimes he’s equally as silly, with no explanation. Additionally, the format makes scripts beholden to the weekly narrative, and the cop genre is generally less sexy and fun than the spy biz, meaning ideas are less unique and memorable, more routine… Thus, while some elements of this show reveal an improvement over Get Smart — like the de-emphasis of parody (which isn’t sustainable), and the decision to let the regulars acknowledge what’s apparent to the audience — The Partners isn’t any better written, with its characters or with its ideas. Today, it’s best known as the sitcom that, because of CBS’ last-minute schedule changes, went up against the top-rated All In The Family in the fall of 1971 (for 15 first-run episodes; the last five were burned off over the summer), legitimizing the supremacy of the Norman Lear machine and the irreversible changes he would spark.
Episode Count: 20 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 20.
Key Episode (of Seen): #1: “Here Comes The Fuzz” (09/18/71)
Why: The series’ hilarious pilot is able to do something that the rest of the run can’t — balance a parody of the cop genre with an earnest buddy comedy, where the leads’ incompetence is acknowledged by the other regulars and made to help motivate both the plot and the laughs. This is an improvement over Get Smart because it means believable characters and big idea-driven hahas can coexist with less opposition — as long as the parodic elements aren’t the driving narrative force, or the primary source of humor. The rest of the show drops this balance, focusing more on the stories than the satire, but with less help from internal givens (like character). In that regard, this premiere shows promise that would go unfulfilled.
FUNNY FACE (Sept 1971 – Dec 1971, CBS)
Premise: A UCLA student originally from the Midwest works as a commercial actress.
Cast: Sandy Duncan, Valorie Armstrong, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Beckman
Creator/Writers: Carl Kleinschmitt, Albert E. Lewin, Ron Friedman, Dick Bensfield & Perry Grant, Susan Silver
Thoughts: There’s no tangible link between Funny Face and Get Smart, but I include the series here because it was quickly succeeded by The Sandy Duncan Show, which is featured below and has a deserved reason for being on this list. So, what’s important to know about this earlier iteration is that it was created by Carl Kleinschmitt, who wrote for The Dick Van Dyke Show and That Girl, the latter of which is very obviously evoked in this similarly single-cam vehicle for another young darling, Sandy Duncan, who plays a small-town girl now alone in the big city, booking odd jobs as an actress. In Sandy’s case, she’s a student who’s studying to be a teacher, and books acting gigs (mostly commercials) just to pay the bills — while Ann Marie wants to be an actress but sometimes has to book outside gigs just to pay the bills. Yet, minus this and Sandy’s lack of core relationships with a father and a regular boyfriend, the premise is clearly reminiscent, as is the style of writing, which, like That Girl, isn’t totally ridiculous or heightened, but can be overly cutesy to the point of falseness, with less of a consistent link between the characters and motivated stories. Meanwhile, Kathleen Freeman and Henry Beckman are fine character actors, but there’s really not much of an ensemble surrounding the leading lady, which means the opportunity for great character writing is narrow. I think this would be less glaring if the show existed in the ‘60s — which it feels more like — than the early ‘70s, where it sat in CBS’ Saturday night lineup with All In The Family, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, all of which were more realistic and ensemble-led. However, despite being the clear weak link in this group and regressive in terms of spirit (with not a lot of seeming ability to improve in a meaningful way), Funny Face was a Top Ten hit because of its time slot. And it’s only because of Sandy Duncan’s medical emergency — she needed eye surgery — that the series was paused at midseason but invited back for the following… where it’d be tweaked to become more contemporary and address the concerns voiced by critics.
Episode Count: 13 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: Three; “A Lesson In Courage,” “A Star Is Born On A Stretcher,” and “Don’t Worry, I’ll Manage”
Key Episode (of Seen): #10: “Don’t Worry, I’ll Manage” (11/20/71)
Why: Truthfully, my commentary on Funny Face is limited because of how little I’ve been able to see of it, and I know, simply based on their loglines, that there are better offerings than the ones I’ve sampled. But this is the best of those three, not only because it’s written by Mary Tyler Moore’s Susan Silver, but because it uses the central premise — Sandy being a small-town girl having to fend for herself in the big city — in a comedic plot about her trying to manage their apartment building for the weekend. While others boast gimmicks, this one boasts the premise.
THE SANDY DUNCAN SHOW (Sept 1972 – Dec 1972, CBS)
Premise: A student teacher works part-time as a secretary at an advertising agency.
Cast: Sandy Duncan, Marian Mercer, Tom Bosley, M. Emmet Walsh, Pam Zarit, Eric Christmas
Creator/Writers: Arne Sultan & Earl Barret, Carl Kleinschmitt, Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, Charlotte Brown
Thoughts: Although Kleinschmitt is still the credited creator, this significant retooling of Funny Face dropped all of the previous support around Sandy Duncan and put its heroine in a new format by head writers Arne Sultan and Earl Barret, both coming off the above-mentioned The Partners. But while the previous series for Duncan was a commercial hit, albeit not a critical one, The Sandy Duncan Show ended up being neither, for CBS moved it out of its guaranteed Top Ten spot (behind All In The Family), and evolved the premise into little more than a shameless copy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That’s right; if Funny Face was an update of That Girl, this was a steal of Mary Tyler Moore, with its lead also taking a regular job in an office, and getting more of a true ensemble in both her personal and professional worlds, from which stories bounced. Now, this is the better design of the two — more support in the cast and a permanent work environment gives the show regular givens that can build emotional continuity, making it easier to find motivated comic story. But in being such a blatant mirror of Mary Tyler Moore, comparisons in the quality of their writing were inevitable, and Sultan and Barret, although they worked on The Governor and J.J. (and Sultan had worked on He & She), which was more realistic and character-based than its contemporaries, don’t have pedigrees in the same league as Mary Tyler Moore’s, and so the disparity in their leads’ depictions — the way they’re defined, the way they’re able to propel story — is huge, enough to make this seem like even more of a pale imitation than Funny Face was of That Girl… despite it actually being, for my money, a better constructed and better written endeavor than its predecessor. (And I’d still like to see more, especially the outings by MTM scribes Charlotte Brown and Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses.)
Episode Count: 13 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: Three; “Richer The Third,” “Write On,” “Dream A Little Recurring Dream Of Me”
Key Episode (of Seen): #13: “Dream A Little Recurring Dream Of Me” (12/31/72)
Why: Again, I haven’t seen enough to create a well-rounded picture of this series or choose its strongest episodes — I know there are better out there — but of the three I’ve watched, this, the series’ last aired installment, is the most modern, with a plot about Sandy having a sex dream. It feels like it belongs in 1972… as opposed to every other story I’ve seen from both of these shows, which are old-fashioned and comedically tired.
DIANA (Sept 1973 – Jan 1974, NBC)
Premise: A divorced British designer relocates to NYC and works at a department store.
Cast: Diana Rigg, Richard B. Shull, Barbara Barrie, David Sheiner, Robert Moore, Carole Androsky, Richard Mulligan
Creator/Writers: Leonard Stern, Sam Bobrick & Ron Clark, Arnold Kane & Gordon Farr, Arne Sultan, Jerry Mayer, Charlotte Brown
Thoughts: Another knockoff Mary Tyler Moore, this vehicle for The Avengers’ Diana Rigg displaces its thirty-something single gal (coming out of a divorce — not just a dashed romance) from the U.K. to NYC, where she’s forced to take an entry level position in the fashion industry, as stories jump between her work and home, showcasing the ensemble around her, including strong cast members like Robert Moore, Richard B. Shull, and Barbara Barrie (who replaced Mary Richards’ mother, Nanette Fabray, after the pilot). Did I mention how reminiscent it was of Mary Tyler Moore? Well, that goes for its design and intent anyway. In terms of actual writing, I’m afraid they’re as far apart as Sandy Duncan was, mostly in the depiction of character, for the strength of Moore’s show — and all of the MTM efforts — was its ability to create believable, palpable humans who were nevertheless well-defined and capable of anchoring motivated story. Diana, based on what I’ve seen, struggles to do this, and with such a close association to a superior effort, its shortcomings are magnified. This extends to its leading lady as well, for she’s simply not much of a comic actress (and shouldn’t be in a sitcom), despite being likable.
As for the Get Smart associations, Diana was created and executive produced by Talent Associates’ Leonard Stern, who probably felt like his take on Mary Tyler Moore would have some weight given his prior stint on He & She, which gathered many of the key talents that would go on to MTM, creating stylistic associations between the two. But, if you’ll recall from our coverage, He & She was an aesthetically liminal property, and, like the succeeding Governor And J.J., its character-driven realism certainly wasn’t on par with The Mary Tyler Moore Show of the early 1970s. And Diana doesn’t have the excuse of liminality to justify why it isn’t as sharp. Another thing it doesn’t have? Forward-thinking writers like Allan Burns, for it instead claims a staff who were mostly on the fringes of this and other ‘70s greats, like veterans from the not-quite-MTM New Dick Van Dyke Show and the campy-as-heck Paul Lynde Show, where its titular lead played a version of Archie Bunker. (Speaking of Archie, Diana was paired on NBC’s schedule with another All In The Family lookalike, Lotsa Luck, a fellow single-season multi-cam that we’ve discussed.) So, outside of small contributions by Bob Newhart scribes Jerry Mayer and Charlotte Brown (who eventually became the head writer of Rhoda), Diana wasn’t working with people who knew how to match MTM’s ethos, and it showed, making this a wannabe Mary Tyler Moore, with — like Sandy Duncan — a comparable form, but not comparable content.
Episode Count: 15 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: Six; “The Lady Comes Across,” “The Gilt Complex,” “Queen For A Night,” You Can’t Go Back,” “Long Shots And Fat Chances,” and “Kung Who” + audio of another, “Take My Father, Please”
Key Episode (of Seen): #15: “Kung Who” (01/07/74)
Why: The series’ final aired episode is its only script credited to the aforementioned Charlotte Brown, whose strong, comedic writing is capable of evoking MTM’s concurrent classics. Also, Get Smart’s Dick Gautier guests and since this post is highlighting those connections, I knew it was the one to feature. (I mean, I also could have cited the episode where Patrick Macnee appears, but it’s a gimmicky show that’s not as funny and isn’t as relevant to this blog.)
WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (Sept 1975 – Dec 1975, ABC)
Premise: The legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Cast: Dick Gautier, Dick Van Patten, Bernie Kopell, Richard Dimitri, Henry Polic II, Misty Rowe, David Sabin, Ron Rifkin
Creator/Writers: Mel Brooks, John Boni & Norman Stiles, Lawrence H. Siegel, Bo Kaprall & Pat Proft
Thoughts: This wild and often hilarious lampoon of Robin Hood has Mel Brooks’ name on it, preceding his 1993 film Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and places Get Smart vets Dick Gautier and Bernie Kopell inside an entire cast of funny performers, all playing familiar roles from the popular English legend. Naturally, with a more specific source work as the engine of its parody, all the leads are better defined than those on the similarly premised and high-concept Get Smart (also created by Brooks), but the storytelling is just as limited, for the legend is restricting and the characters are equally as unbelievable, as a result of the writing’s heavy focus on satire. Now, as a short-lived series, this problem doesn’t reveal itself to be fatal. Yet even in this brief 13-episode run, it’s clear the guffaw-seeking scripts have to rely more on out-of-the-box gimmicks (like musical numbers and fourth wall breaking, both staples of Brooks’ style) in place of the sitcom genre’s more traditional relationship between characters and story, and the law of diminishing returns asserts itself fairly early in its output. Essentially then, this is, once again, more a sketch than a sitcom, and though it’s probably fine for a half hour every week, it couldn’t sustain itself for many weeks, as the central comic idea — even with great stars, like Sid Caesar, who appears in the second entry — is itself single-dimensional and would get old fast (faster than Get Smart). However, like all of Brooks’ oeuvre, it’s worthy of a cult following, and its DVD release I’m sure will delight viewers who are able to enjoy it simply for what it is.
Episode Count: 13 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 13.
Key Episode (of Seen): #1: The Capture Of Robin Hood” (09/10/75)
Why: In the absence of any real episodic standouts, I’m singling out the premiere because it benefits from the freshest use of the high-concept premise.
Ultimately, I say you should FORGET The Debbie Reynolds Show and Diana. Because I need to see more, I’ll mark The Good Guys, Funny Face, and The Sandy Duncan Show in the STUDY pile (though they’ll likely prove forgettable), next to The Partners. And if you can, ENJOY When Things Were Rotten for what it is, along with the best entry here, The Partners’ pilot.
Come back next week for my thoughts on The Governor And J.J.! And stay tuned Tuesday for a sitcom rerun!
I actually remember, as a 7-year-old, excitedly watching the premiere of THE PARTNERS because I had been such an avid fan of GET SMART as a young tyke. Alas, I was relegated to watching the episode on my parents’ black & white portable TV upstairs while the rest of the family was downstairs … watching ALL IN THE FAMILY (the seminal classic episode, “The Saga of Cousin Oscar”).
The poor PARTNERS never stood a chance.
Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
What a great memory — thanks for sharing! (And you’re right, THE PARTNERS stood no chance up against ALL IN THE FAMILY!)
Thanks for covering these sitcoms. I remember reading about the 1970s sitcoms in TV Guide’s Fall Previews, but I didn’t see too much of any of them.
I have seen a few GOOD GUYS episodes from both trades & YouTube. I enjoyed the pilot most of those. The other episodes were mostly (to me) as goofy as any GILLIGAN’S ISLAND episode (I’ve never been a big GI fan.) I became a fan of Herb Edelman from seeing his Saturday morning sitcom, BIG JOHN LITTLE JOHN, when I was young, but when i purchased that series on DVD some years ago, surprise, I didn’t find it as funny in middle age as I did as a kid.
I’ve seen a few minutes of THE PARTNERS from a clip, maybe from YouTube, and I didn’t find anything funny about it, but then it was only a few minutes. BTW, I’ve seen an appearance that Don Adams made on the NBC teen music show HULLABALOO from Feb. 1965, and his act included a “Would You Believe?” joke, so he added some of himself to Maxwell Smart. I’ve only seen him on Bill Dana’s show once or twice, so I’m not sure if he ever used it as Byron Glick, but maybe he did.
BTW, I tried your link back to your LOTSA LUCK review, and there is no link there, so you may want to add that back. Thanks!
Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
“Would you believe?” predated both Glick and Smart; it was part of Adams’ standup routine, heard on his first album, and used on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW, which also counted Dana as a regular cast member and writer. (Dana actually claims that he came up with it.)
And, incidentally, I purposely didn’t link back to my ancient LOTSA LUCK piece!
I remember watching all these shows, except for THE PARTNERS (wonder why?) but did not particularly care for any of them. I wanted to like Debbie’s show but it was disappointing from the beginning. All the publicity about the cigarette advertising seemed to do more harm than good. Any word on why she stopped filming before an audience? The opening credits also changed as the season progressed. It was as if everyone was giving up.
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Well, you’re far from the only one who missed THE PARTNERS. As noted above, it was scheduled opposite ALL IN THE FAMILY!
As for THE DEBBIE REYNOLDS SHOW’s live audience, it was suspended for the episode shot during the series’ premiere week because of the drama Reynolds created when she threatened to quit over its sponsorship. When that dust settled, she apparently made the decision not to bring the audience back at all and nobody fought her on it. They should have.
Agreed! I’m surprised Oppenheimer did not fight her on it. He knew that certain performers came alive with the audience and Debbie fell into that category.
Reynolds was a self-professed ham and I think her performance favorably modulates without the audience, as the reduced energy tamps down her natural tendency to overplay, but you’re right — the move is absolutely a suppressant to the rhythm of Oppenheimer’s scripts and the other performances (including Patricia Smith’s; she was so disappointed by the switch VARIETY saw fit to report it).
As for Oppenheimer’s position on the dropped audience, he never went on record about it (to my knowledge); perhaps he saw the writing on the wall and was choosing the path of least resistance, or perhaps he agreed with her decision-making (for whatever reasons she had).
Thanks again for another excellent post. I am curious about many of these shows.
As far as The Good Guys goes, I think that thinly premised buddy comedy was just not in Bob Denver’s skillset.
The throughline in Maynard and Gilligan is charismatic insularity. We are drawn into men that live in their own little worlds. It worked in two markedly different sitcom formats for Denver. Denver’s work in a couple of movies, For Those Who Think Young and The Sweet Ride, also showed that his persona could handle more adult situations, such as a romantic relationship.
But what Denver had on Gilligan was a high concept, and a couple of extroverted costars in Alan Hale and Jim Backus, who countered Denver’s introversion, as did Dwayne Hickman’s persona on Dobie Gillis. Not so much Hickman’s performance, but the extroversion of the young adult character on a quest to define himself, as opposed to the man of quirks who doesn’t want to grow up.
Maybe it was easy to project that Denver would be wacky enough to work in a buddy comedy ala The Odd Couple or Perfect Strangers. But I don’t think he could really project enough as a performer to meet the needs of that format. Herb Edelman is a sympathetic straight man to Denver, but I think he hits too many of the same emotional beats as Denver. So the friendship is believable, but the proceedings lack natural excitement.
Hi, jayz755! Thanks for reading and commenting.
While Denver himself may have been an introvert, I don’t agree at all that his two prior sitcom roles — where he was an extreme force to whom others were regularly reacting — should be defined as such and therefore used to explain why he was so ill-suited to THE GOOD GUYS. But I would agree that this series lacks the kind of big personalities he had as support on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (and in the peripheral ensemble of DOBIE GILLIS) and it accordingly relies on him much more *exclusively* to be its comic disrupter.
Because of this, Denver seems to have had trouble reconciling this important duty with the premise’s inherent need for more low-concept realism, which was foreign to him (and also helps explain why there weren’t any comparably big personalities in the cast), so he ends up satisfying neither objective, being regularly unbelievable but never as outrageously funny.
This isn’t all his fault — the show was asking him to do the same thing he did on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but without the high-concept trappings, the grand comic support, or the heightened caricature that he could hide behind — yet his performance dominates the show because of his position on it, so when he fails, the conclusion reached above is substantiated: Denver was obviously uncomfortable on this kind of sitcom and it suffers as a result. On that, we agree.
Thanks for your response!
I am not a big fan of the structure of The Good Guys either, with one character married and one not. Typically shows based on friendships work best with the two friends either both married/coupled or both single. As is the case in real life, as people often drift apart when the statuses are different.
I understand the idea the show was based on, but the triangle is simply too rigid. It puts Herb Edelman’s character at the emotional center of the show, and really allows for no development from either Bob Denver’s character or Joyce Van Patten’s thankless wife role. Plus, due to Bob Denver’s status as a performer, that triangle is so foregrounded as to prevent the development of other characters or situations that might produce plots and humor. Bob Denver had shown he could play characters that audiences could identify with, and casting him in the role of “comic disruptor” as you put it wasn’t making full use of his talents.
I don’t agree that the show’s structure is intrinsically restrictive. Putting the two friends in different romantic circumstances is a mode of contrast that not only helps define their different objectives and perspectives (providing narrative givens from which characterizations can develop), it’s also a natural source of conflict that’s valuable in the cultivation of story. “People often drift apart when the statuses are different” is exactly why it’s a good relationship-based drama.
Now, you’re right that this makes Edelman’s character the premise’s dramatic fulcrum, and I think it’s valid to take issue with how little depth the show gives him in light of his responsibilities. I also agree that the series is always going to view the wife role as secondary to its central friendship, which will make her emotionally limited *in comparison* to them.
But I don’t think either point is so “rigid” that it discourages well-defined, believable characters who can motivate story and then develop because of it, for this is still a fundamentally low-concept dilemma driven by relationships and positioned in an identifiable, realistic world — where other relationships can also exist and support story too, aiding this “foregrounded” drama. As with all of the low-concept failures discussed above, it’s merely up to the writers and the players to deliver.
(To wit, I’M DICKENS, HE’S FENSTER proves that this premise was not prohibitive to creative vitality. It may have had different standards about realism — partly because of where Leonard Stern’s brand was in that era — but it aesthetically succeeded on its established terms, with better performances and better comic writing.)
As for Denver, I think he played a “comic disruptor” on all three of his sitcoms, so I don’t think his function was different on THE GOOD GUYS. Rather, as I argued above, “he seems to have had trouble reconciling this important duty with the premise’s inherent need for more low-concept realism” for this show “was asking him to do the same thing he did on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but without the high-concept trappings, the grand comic support, or the heightened caricature that he could hide behind.” In other words, he couldn’t handle the truth.