A Festive Sitcom Family Reunion

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’ve got a festive treat in honor of Thanksgiving — one of those holidays where families come together to feast and fight: perfect fodder for a sitcom episode. Now, this particular rarity isn’t exactly set at Thanksgiving, but it does contain a family reunion, and it did air 55 years ago this month (on November 06, 1967, to be exact) — it’s an entry from The Danny Thomas Hour called “Make More Room For Daddy.”

On this installment of Danny Thomas’ single-season variety series, the former sitcom star reunited the cast of his long-running comedy — including Marjorie Lord, Rusty Hamer, Angela Cartwright, Sid Melton, Hans Conried, and Amanda Randolph — for an hour special about 20-year-old Rusty’s return from the Army, with a surprise: he’s just married his colonel’s daughter (Jana Taylor). This causes tension and tears, as the Williams family — particularly Uncle Tonoose — insists that the couple have another ceremony, while the bride’s militant father (Edward Andrews) also complicates matters via his disdain for “show people.”

Directed by Danny Thomas and written by Jack Elinson & Norman Paul (both of whom had worked on the sitcom), “Make More Room For Daddy” was the second of three TV reunion specials for this cast — the first aired in 1965, and the third aired in 1969 as “Make Room For Granddaddy,” a pilot for the series that would eventually run during the 1970-’71 season. Having seen both the 1967 and 1969 specials, and several episodes of the brief 1970 revival, I can say that nothing I’ve watched ever quite recaptures the charm of the original — especially because the late ’60s and early ’70s were a period of such social change, and attempting to both honor the nostalgia of the classic while keeping the proceedings somewhat current was like threading a needle, with most of the later shows indulging gimmicks and surface-level stabs at modernity, not well-reflected through the characters or the writing itself.

As for this 1967 special, this one does a fine job of engaging with the original’s sentimentality, and the chemistry between the leads — plus the way they speak — all feels congruent with what we expect, based on the series. But the storytelling is predictable — this hour-long format does the sitcom genre NO favors! — and it’s never hilarious… at least, not like the best of The Danny Thomas Show. What’s more, the series’ strides towards Dick Van Dyke-like sophistication and realism (evidenced in the final season) have evaporated, leaving essentially a mediocre version of early ’60s Danny Thomas… but with more schmaltz than genuine humor or character value.

When I first screened this special for my 2020 coverage, I was unimpressed, but since I recently added it to my personal collection, I thought it would be fun to share — with subscribers who comment below to alert me of their private, non-commercial interest — so you all can see for yourselves. In the meantime, here’s a clip! (Note that this originally aired in color.)



Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Martin!