Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This weekend saw the 92nd birthday of show biz veteran Bob Newhart, the one-of-a-kind comic legend who starred in, among other things, two classics that we’ve previously featured on Sitcom Tuesdays — The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart! This year, in honor of this great man and his indelible work, I want to share something rarer: a forgotten credit from Newhart’s catalogue — his 1967 guest appearance on a short-lived Buck Henry comedy called Captain Nice, which I spotlighted in a recent “potpourri” piece, singling out his segment as one of the best. It’s “One Rotten Apple” — directed by Gary Nelson, written by Peter Meyerson & Treva Silverman (the latter eventually of Mary Tyler Moore), and broadcast as the series’ 14th on April 24, 1967. I’ve reprinted below what I wrote about the show a few months ago, followed, for the first time, by the episode itself.
CAPTAIN NICE (Jan 1967-May 1967, NBC)
Premise: A police chemist mama’s boy drinks a secret formula that turns him into a superhero.
Cast: William Daniels, Alice Ghostley, Ann Prentiss, Liam Dunn, Bill Zuckert, Byron Foulger
Creator/Writers: Buck Henry, Peter Meyerson & Treva Silverman, Peggy Elliott & Ed Scharlach, Arne Sultan, Mike Marmer & Stan Burns, David Ketchum
Thoughts: Airing a half hour later than Mr. Terrific and on another network, Captain Nice was conceived by Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry, who left the latter during its second season to helm this series. As with the above, it’s a knowing spoof of a superhero show — and the camp-filled Batman, specifically. However, unlike Mr. Terrific, Captain Nice aims to satirize its genre more directly, à la Get Smart, finding the majority of its hahas from the comic irony of a caped crusader actually being a lame mama’s boy who still lives at home with his unseen father and overprotective mother, played by the hilarious Alice Ghostley. Speaking of which, Henry does a better job here of establishing amusing relationships that can motivate their own yuks (and story) — not only with Ghostley, but also with Ann Prentiss (sister of He & She’s Paula) as a potential love interest who’s much better defined than Agent 99. But alas, superhero shows were on the way out — Batman itself was already on the decline — and being that Captain Nice is a lampoon of a lampoon, this premise isn’t as comedically fresh as Get Smart’s. Plus, with a lead who has the emotional shallowness of Maxwell Smart (because Henry’s understanding of satire being both series’ main attractions prohibits their ensembles from being fully aware of any ineptitude), while lacking the rich comic persona of Don Adams, Captain Nice just isn’t set up for success in the same way as Get Smart, even with better support in its cast. (Incidentally, I also think it was a mistake to have Mama be “in” on the secret of Captain Nice’s identity; for the sake of comedic jeopardy, the series should have kept closer to Batman there.)
Episode Count: 15 produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 15.
Key Episode (of Seen): #1: “The Man Who Flies Like A Pigeon” (01/09/67)
#14: “One Rotten Apple” (04/24/67)
Why: Buck Henry’s pilot establishes the premise and all the leads with a lot of laughs in the Get Smart vein, and the series’ penultimate episode (co-written by future Mary Tyler Moore scribe Treva Silverman) memorably guests the great Bob Newhart, who’s, well, as great as ever. (Other guests include Charles Grodin, John Milford, and Jo Anne Worley!)
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned — the Garry Marshall piece is coming soon!