Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m sharing — with subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest — access to an unsold 1975 comedy pilot called Harry And Maggie. It stars Don Knotts and Eve Arden as the eponymous twosome — he, a small-town widower, and she, his big-city sister-in-law who tries to help him raise his teenage daughter. Others in the cast include Kathy Davis, Lucille Benson, and Tom Poston as the employee whom Harry hopes to fix up with Maggie, in an attempt to get her off his back. (Eddie Quillan also guests in the pilot as a cabbie.) Sounds good, right?
I was so excited to track down this rarity — produced by MGM for CBS (directed by Jay Sandrich) — having been curious about it for years, not only because of the strong cast (Arden and Knotts… and Poston!), but also because it was created by Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin, a duo who had recently served as executive producers on Love, American Style, after writing for My Mother, The Car; Hey, Landlord!; The Andy Griffith Show; That Girl; and He & She — a wide variety of credits that indicates some Garry Marshall and even MTM influences (this pair also cowrote “His Two Right Arms,” the failed backdoor pilot from the end of Mary Tyler Moore‘s second season), making the potential for Harry And Maggie relatively great.
Unfortunately, that potential went unrealized… and since viewing the pilot, I’m afraid I now think that’s with good reason, for despite boasting a dynamite central cast and a basic premise — the clash of opposites — that’s ripe with the chance for character-based comedy, this script is surprisingly unsatisfying, avoiding the direct exploration of its conflict by tending to distractions, like tacky yuk-yuks about Harry’s daughter’s homely appearance and Poston’s amusing-but-incidental drunk scene, muting and sidelining the main characterizations in the process so that they lack the boldness necessary to earn the big laughs we expect from performers of their caliber. Yes, Poston is a bright spot and Knotts and Arden really give it their all, but they were clearly let down, and it’s a shame, because this trio could have made magic — and, in this case, the premise wasn’t against them either… just the execution.
Nevertheless, for fans of these great talents, this is indeed a fascinating curio, first airing on April 25, 1975 (and then again on July 17, 1975 — 46 years ago this week). Here’s a clip — Harry And Maggie’s funniest: Poston’s aforementioned drunk scene. Enjoy!
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more sitcom fun!