Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re leading up to Laverne & Shirley coverage (which will begin in mid-August) with a Clip Show in honor of Garry Marshall, whose sitcoms I often critique harshly due to their relatively shallow treatment of character. However, when I speak pejoratively about his shows or his style, I don’t mean to discount the fact that he is a great comedy writer, with credits on some of the best-loved series of all time, many of which we’ve studied here on That’s Entertainment!, including the most character-driven sitcom of the ’60s (go figure). So, in this post — the first half of a two-parter; stay tuned for Part II in two weeks — I’m collecting some of my favorite episodes by Marshall that we’ve previously discussed on this blog, as both a prelude and celebratory tonic to our look at his later efforts.
I’M DICKENS, HE’S FENSTER (1962-1963)
01) Episode 11: “The Joke” (Aired: 12/07/62)
The construction crew feuds over whether or not a certain joke is funny.
Teleplay by Mel Tolkin, Don Hinkley, and Leonard Stern | Story by Garry Marshall & Fred Freeman | Directed by Norman Abbott
One of Garry Marshall’s first sitcom credits was shared with his then-partner Fred Freeman on the single-season classic I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, which we’ve never officially discussed on Sitcom Tuesdays but have looked at in several fun Wildcard Wednesday offerings (like here), where I mentioned this specific installment, even going so far as to call it among “the best sitcom episodes of the ’60s,” with an amusing premise that then becomes hysterical from some bold comic invention and invaluable help from the series’ particulars (its leads). This scenario, for the record, was previously used in a sketch on Your Show Of Shows, for which story editor Mel Tolkin had written, but Marshall and Freeman receive credit for it here, and I feature it now both because it’s a testament to the great television with which Marshall was involved prior to launching his dynasty in the ’70s, and also because it sets up his orientation in more of the idea-driven school of sitcommery, where this series from The Honeymooners’ Leonard Stern fits — unsurprisingly, it had a staff full of other comedy-variety writers (and incidentally, Marshall and Freeman, at the time, were coming from this realm too — late night’s The Jack Paar Show) — as it’s more concerned with funny notions than rich characters… That said, these characters are more supportive than most in this category, due in large part to the choice performers (John Astin and Marty Ingels), and this show predicts Marshall’s future skill at both supplying comic ideas and understanding the need for exceptional stars who could make said ideas shine even brighter. Having exceptional stars is key though, as he would soon learn on the series where he and Freeman were employed at the time of this entry’s broadcast…
THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW (1961-1965)
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
Marshall got his first true sitcom staffing with Freeman on the first season of The Joey Bishop Show, but it took until the second year for them to get credited with actually writing a teleplay. Now, they’re again only responsible for the story of this particular segment from the sophomore season — but it’s perhaps the series’ funniest excursion and I didn’t want this list to go by without it. Here’s what I wrote about the outing last year: “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!” This was relatively high praise for a series where high praise was rare, as both Bishop and his show were notoriously difficult to write for — he was personally erratic and wouldn’t share the spotlight with his ensemble, while the series itself lacked well-defined characters and thus struggled to find good story, even as it creeped closer to becoming a knockoff of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which was the Sheldon Leonard/Danny Thomas sitcom for which Marshall really wanted to write.
03) 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
The difficult Joey Bishop fired Freeman before his third season, but Marshall stuck around and even got promoted to Script Consultant, working under former Jack Benny scribe and head writer Milt Josefsberg (whom he eventually replaced for a brief period after Bishop fired Josefsberg too). Marshall would soon be paired with new Danny Thomas hire Jerry Belson during the 1963-’64 season, creating a duo that would last until the early ’70s. However, in the brief interim, Marshall was linked on a few scripts with Harry Crane (who helped develop “The Honeymooners” sketch), and this is one of them — a crucial outing that I include because it actually tries to find for Joey the germ of a characterization that could be mined for comedy. Here’s what I wrote about it last year: “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.” From this, it’s evident that Marshall is starting to get more of a study in just how vital well-supported characterizations are for star performers — they have to be, if nothing else, clear and consistent for the sake of situation comedy.
THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW (1953-1964)
04) Episode 326: “Linda’s Crush” (Aired: 12/30/63)
Linda is angry at Danny for using her crush on a boy in his act.
Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Danny Thomas
Marshall’s ability to weather the storm of Joey Bishop had Sheldon Leonard eager to reward him with assignments on other series in the Leonard/Thomas stable, the first of which was the flagship itself, The Danny Thomas Show, for which Marshall wrote one script with Freeman in the penultimate year before becoming a recurring contributor — with new partner Jerry Belson — for its final season in 1963-’64. We talked a lot about this series’ trajectory last year, and primarily how, like Joey Bishop, it progressively began to emulate The Dick Van Dyke Show, trying “to recapture both humor and heart by instilling in the regulars and their relationships a greater degree of realism.” Marshall and Belson became popular by writing for underserved characters — the kids (Rusty and Linda) — like in this offering, which also illustrates the comparisons I had been pointing out between Dick Van Dyke and Danny Thomas during this period. Here’s a bit of what I wrote then: “The next installment in the ‘Danny’s act offends someone’ category claims Linda as its subject, as she’s terribly mad when Danny uses her crush on a boy — and mentions him by name — on a television show. Now, while this outing isn’t as narratively identical to Dick Van Dyke, and as consequently pure [as others…], it’s actually a better take on the story. In the first place, it’s one of the few scripts credited this year to Marshall and Belson, whose first Dick Van Dyke show would air a few weeks after this broadcast, and they inherently manage to capture the same kind of realistic, but ever-so-slightly heightened style that would make them appropriate scribes for that series and an elevating presence on this one […]” For more on “Linda’s Crush,” revisit our look at the eleventh season of Danny Thomas here.
THE LUCY SHOW (1962-1968)
05) Episode 59: “Lucy, The Good Skate” [a.k.a. “Lucy And The Good Skate”] (Aired: 09/21/64)
Lucy gets stuck in a pair of skates on the night of a big dance.
Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Jack Donohue
Breaking from the Leonard/Thomas camp, Marshall and Belson contributed scripts to The Lucy Show during its middle two seasons, one year in the original New York setting with Vivian Vance, and the other in the Vance-less revamp set in Los Angeles. This recurring opportunity, thanks to new head writer Milt Josefsberg (whom Joey Bishop had since fired), was a notable stepping-stone for the pair, and Marshall later revealed that his efforts here — especially for Season Three, the last with Vance — most inspired his work on Laverne & Shirley, where he also got the chance to provide big block comedy scenes for a powerhouse female duo. Indeed, there is a comic kinship between these two series, as they’re both predicated on slapstick centerpieces that display less concern for logic and character than they should (given Laverne & Shirley’s era and The Lucy Show’s pedigree). Next week’s rerun piece will actually be on the third season of The Lucy Show, so I’ll save some thoughts until then, but for this post, I’ll just add that I’m featuring my favorite Marshall/Belson offering from their Vance season, and while, yes, the climax is reserved exclusively for Lucy (as Viv was already being phased out), the only entry written by them in which the classic twosome truly shares in a physical comedy set piece is “Lucy Gets The Bird,” a middling affair that’s hinged around a gimmicky animal and reuses a rooftop bit that was much stronger when first done two years prior. Although, now that I think about this, it may be an apt frame of reference for Laverne & Shirley, after all… but I digress. The point is to celebrate Marshall… So, this is a solid episode of The Lucy Show, typical of this transitional period in the series and the material he got to cowrite for this important gig.
06) Episode 108: “Lucy And Clint Walker” (Aired: 03/07/66)
Lucy wants to knit a sweater for her masculine boyfriend.
Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Maury Thompson
Truthfully, I wanted to highlight at least one episode from the fourth season of The Lucy Show — the second and final year for which Marshall and Belson provided scripts — and it’s not because any of these samples are amazing. On the contrary, Four’s new format pares down the series’ premised givens (of people, places, and things), so there’s not a lot of ideal situation comedy, as there are fewer characters (only Lucy and Mooney remain), and not as many ways to find satisfying plot by honoring what’s been conceptually established. Instead, it mostly becomes about showcasing Lucy alone or Lucy and the guest-of-the-week, whom she often menaces (while also menacing Mooney). But being able to cater to Ball and what she needed specifically — that is, really learning to write for a star with a known comic persona — was a seminal experience for these scribes, and spending another year on The Lucy Show bolstered their profile, as they expanded their horizons during the 1965-’66 season, offering teleplays to the single-season sitcom Hank, the drama I Spy, and, of course, The Dick Van Dyke Show, several great episodes of which we’ll be discussing in the second half of this Clip Show entry (coming up in two weeks)… As for “Lucy And Clint Walker,” this is the latter of two installments from Four that guest the eponymous Cheyenne star as Lucy’s new beau, and that emotional continuity helps ground both the comic action and the otherwise thin characterizations, which, in being less tethered to any above-mentioned premised givens, crave more dimension and believability. Thus, this is something of an outlier, and it’s proof that Garry Marshall was growing into a fine writer, capable of smarter fare than the baseline of even classic ’60s sitcoms…
Stay tuned next week for a rerun of The Lucy Show’s third season — and come back the week after that for the second half of this Clip Show post, featuring three episodes each from The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Odd Couple! And tomorrow? A new Wildcard!