A Pickle of a Pilot

Welcome to a bonus Wildcard Wednesday, on a Tuesday! This entry was originally scheduled for February but bumped to honor Cindy Williams, so I’m running it now — a few weeks after the 50th anniversary of February 1973, when the pilot for a multi-camera sitcom based off the British series Nearest And Dearest was taped. Retitled Thicker Than Water, this American version followed the same premise, about a pair of estranged siblings forced to cohabitate and run the family’s pickle business together, as a stipulation in their father’s will for receiving an inheritance.

The pilot, written by Rick Mittleman and directed by Dick Van Dyke’Jerry Paris, starred Tony-winning Julie Harris with The Big Valley’s Richard Long and set up the “situation” — of the pair’s ill father (Malcolm Atterbury) scheming to reunite his children via the family’s pickle business. Others in the cast included cousin Lily (Jessica Myerson), her mute husband (Lou Fant), and the company’s aged employee (Patrick Cranshaw). It was very much like its British predecessor, except in the American version, the ill father didn’t die — he lives through the pilot and sticks around to ensure that his two kids lead the company together. This change was probably enforced to make the series less grim — opening with a death was likely deemed too harsh — and although Thicker Than Water wasn’t picked up for ABC‘s fall schedule, it was granted a brief summer run, in the hopes that it would catch on and become a midseason replacement. (The Alphabet Network also tried this strategy with The Corner Bar, along with the similarly British-based Love Thy Neighbor.) The show ran for nine weeks, premiering on June 13, 1973, with its pilot, “Two For The Money.” Unfortunately, Thicker Than Water didn’t make much of an impression and, like those other summer series, it’s been largely forgotten.

How does the show stack up? Well, I’ve only seen the pilot, but judging from this setup, its premiere establishes a rich foundation for laughs in the premised relationship between two well-delineated opposites. That’s always a recipe for success, and with a jokey teleplay that’s amusingly irreverent, both its comedic prospects and capacity to humorously reflect the “situation” seem promising. On the other hand, there’s a seriousness to these actors that sometimes feels tonally discordant with the yuk-yuk-yuk material, and there’s never really a grounding, sincere moment that these performers, and their characters, need in order to tether the premise to something realistic — something human. Accordingly, it reminds me of another British-adapted sitcom from 1973, NBC’s Lotsa Luck, which also emphasized comedically contentious familial dynamics amidst a working-class ethos, while likewise claiming a broad, cartoony sense of character that often rendered the proceedings unbelievable at best, unpleasant at worst. That is, Thicker Than Water, like Lotsa Luck, is missing the ardent emotional ties of an All In The Family or the strong paternal bond of a Sanford And Son, and this lack of human connection — if never generated — would have severely hindered the series from ever offering nuanced characters. So, in this regard, although there are elements of Thicker Than Water that appear ripe for comedy, I remain skeptical of its long-term viability.

But see for yourself — here’s the pilot, a forgotten sample of the sitcom genre in 1973!



Stay tuned next Wednesday for the results of last month’s survey and news about Sitcom Tuesday’s future offerings — you won’t want to miss it!