Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week I’ve got another Q&A entry, where I answer questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who sent in something — if you don’t see your “Q” here, I just may “A” it next time. (I now have a stockpile!)
Track says… Lately I’ve been watching It’s A Living. It’s a decent show since it was written by some of Susan Harris’ writers, [but] it missed Harris herself. Did you think Harris improved this concept with The Golden Girls?
Aside from boasting female-led ensembles with named stars, I don’t think these two shows have as much in common as their Witt-Thomas pedigree might suggest. Narratively, one is structured as a workplace sitcom in the straightforward MTM tradition that developed during the ’70s, and the other is a modified and more adult version of the domestic comedy, a dominant subgenre in the mid ’80s. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t think Susan Harris improved the concept of It’s A Living with The Golden Girls because I don’t think they’re similar enough to draw a link based on how they were conceived. As for their styles, while they indeed shared writers — a couple It’s A Living’s scribes went over to The Golden Girls in its later years — the character construction on the latter is so superior that there’s a huge difference not only in the quality of the storytelling, but also in the jokes. Accordingly, this further mitigates what they have in common, and I wish I could say It’s A Living was half as proficient at character-driven comedy as The Golden Girls. Incidentally, if you want to see a better example of The Golden Girls’ emerging style on an earlier show — aside from Soap — check out Benson. (Several of the key contributors from the middle years of Benson cut their teeth there before moving over to The Golden Girls, and while the two series are also not conceptually alike, the character work is not as disparate, and the type of comedy therefore feels more worthy of association.) Thanks for the question!
Nat has a question, prompted by our Jeannie coverage, about Bewitched… Where do you think it fits in the landscape of 60’s sitcoms, one of the best or middle of the pack?
I think The Dick Van Dyke Show is unrivaled as the best sitcom of the ‘60s in terms of writing, but beyond that, the Dick York years of Bewitched are stronger than anything else we’ve featured from this era. The series’ combination of low-concept structures with high-concept ideas, and within a premise that has both dramatic weight and very big laughs — from very big characters — renders it one of the leading ambassadors for the decade’s intentions at their most ideal.
Mitchell writes in with… I was born in 1963. I would love to know what do you think are the 10 best sitcom episodes of that year?
Going only off what’s been covered so far on this blog, here are my picks…
Jon Josephs asks… Besides HE & SHE which I know you love, what short lived sitcom do you think most deserved to be a hit and potentially become a beloved classic?
Well, if a three-season sitcom that’s mostly forgotten today counts as short-lived, I’d say The New Dick Van Dyke Show. It doesn’t match the calibre of its iconic ’60s predecessor, but it’s equivalent to the Vivian Vance years of The Lucy Show in comparison to I Love Lucy, and there are enough classic episodes to make the series similarly enjoyable for fans of the original. (Here’s a graphic that lists my favorite episodes, as of 2021.) Another great answer to your question is the single-season classic I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. More on that series here.
Richard Hammer says… [Do you have] any anecdotes or insights […] with regard to […] the TV version of How To Marry A Millionaire and the real reason that Lori Nelson left after the first season. Same goes for The Adventures of Superman and the real reason Phyllis Coates (my favorite Lois) left.
Phyllis Coates turned down double her first season salary to return to Superman because she was already committed to another pilot that might have gone to series at the same time. Coates also later claimed that she was not eager to go back to Superman because of George Reeves’ drinking. As for Lori Nelson, I think this piece in Daily Variety from February 13, 1959 will interest you.
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Come back next week for more sitcom fun and another fresh wildcard!