Bilko Bounces Back (Briefly): A Look at THE NEW PHIL SILVERS SHOW

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, to round out our coverage on The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959, CBS), I’m sharing an episode of the Emmy-winning comic’s short-lived (30-episode) sitcom comeback, creatively titled The New Phil Silvers Show, which ran as part of CBS’ Saturday night lineup during the 1963-’64 season.

The premise of the show had Silvers once again playing his Bilko persona, but this time as a character called Harry Grafton, who worked as a factory foreman. But aside from Silvers and regular coworker Herbie Faye, The New Phil Silvers Show wasn’t much like the original — mostly because it couldn’t boast Nat Hiken’s smart storytelling. Series creators R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock, whose combined and individual credits had thus far included The Real McCoys, Dobie Gillis, Bachelor Father, Andy Griffith, The Flintstones, Danny Thomas, and a single-season comedy called McKeever And The Colonel, didn’t have the same knack for ingenuity, and once it was clear that the factory setting wasn’t working, the show was reformatted by producer Rod Amateau during its last third, transforming into a domestic comedy with Elena Verdugo as Harry’s sister.

Suffice it to say, The New Phil Silvers Show did nothing to harm the reputation of the comic’s classic series, but its failure did discourage him from staying in the genre, ensuring that the Bilko character (or any variation) remained less visible in primetime than his ’50s contemporaries, Lucy and Ralph Kramden, who remained more popular because they remained… Nevertheless, if you’re a Silvers fan, there’s stuff to enjoy in his ’60s effort. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes myself, but you can read more about the show here, and even see a full-length episode on the Shout Factory! DVD release of the original Phil Silvers show.

In the meantime, I’m sharing a fun episode that’s not been released; it’s the 25th aired excursion, “Auntie Up,” which was first broadcast by CBS on March 21, 1964 — after the show’s reformatting — and was directed by David Davis. The script, credited to Bill Raynor & Myles Wilder, concerned a seemingly sweet housekeeper (Bewitched‘s Alice Pearce), who turns Harry’s home into a gambling den, prompting Silvers to dress in drag to bilk her.



Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for Musical Theatre Monday!