The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Seven

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our look at the best of The Danny Thomas Show! 29 of this season’s 33 episodes are available to stream on Amazon Prime. The other four remain, like the rest, in syndication and in COZI’s current rotation.

The Danny Thomas Show stars DANNY THOMAS as Danny Williams, MARJORIE LORD as Kathy Williams, RUSTY HAMER as Rusty Williams, ANGELA CARTWRIGHT as Linda Williams, and PENNEY PARKER as Terry Williams. With AMANDA RANDOLPH as Louise, PAT HARRINGTON JR. as Pat, and SID MELTON as Charley.

The seventh season of The Danny Thomas Show was a rough one behind the scenes. Despite great success following the series’ move to CBS, which helped both quality and popularity, Thomas was growing tired of the weekly TV grind and looking for an out. Together with producer/director Sheldon Leonard and head writer Arthur Stander, Thomas thought he found his answer in up-and-coming comic Pat Harrington Jr., who would play love interest and eventual husband to eldest daughter Terry, thereby creating a new, younger couple that could take over the show while Danny and Kathy became recurring support. Yet there were issues with this plan. For starters, Sherry Jackson refused to return, necessitating a recast with an actress who wasn’t terrible, but simply lacked both her predecessor’s authenticity and chemistry with the others; this limited her potential usage. What’s more, Harrington wasn’t given much of an actual character to play — no personality, no flaws, no source of laughs — so while the 11 episodes in which he eventually appears constitute an engagement arc that has an appealing narrative focus and indeed makes the season seem more in control of its own interests, the show also boxes itself into a corner with what it can do with him. But perhaps this was for the best, because many others were dissatisfied with this intended transaction — Lord was vocally unhappy about being phased out, and the sponsors balked at the idea of trading Thomas for Harrington — so there was much relief when Thomas, before year’s end, somehow came around to the notion that he wasn’t ready to give up his series, after all. (Incidentally, Harrington became “unavailable” the following season, and though Terry was supposed to continue recurring, she never appeared again either. Hmm…) As for the arc itself, the sense of story-based momentum it provides — including a few memorable episodes — is almost enough to distract from its lack of character value, and accordingly, I think it’s safe to say Danny Thomas dodged a proverbial bullet by not changing hands in such a fashion. Thus, with Seven spared of being the transitional year where Danny introduces his replacement, it’s now merely the year with the fake Terry’s wedding, enjoyable mostly because of our theoretical history with the character, not because of the new actress or how effectively these stories are written.

Yet this is still something of a transitional year. It’s the last with regular involvement by Stander, who’d basically been the series’ key scribe since Four, instilling throughout his tenure a sense of human believability that played well against the show’s mounting comic interests, which peaked in Six. So, compared to future seasons, Seven definitely maintains its aesthetic association with what came before — there are many well-done, hilarious entries — but it’s hard to deny that the series’ strengths are already starting to diminish. That is, the show is less sincerely funny — the guest star outings are once again more shamelessly self-promotional and harder to enjoy, for instance — and there’s less truth underscoring the depiction of these characters, who are starting to feel, in some narratives, like traditional sitcom figures as opposed to real people. This is especially the case with Kathy, whose definition is so scant that she can’t motivate strong emotional turns (see: “Jealousy” and “Cupid’s Little Helper”). Now, the problem with character is certainly not as bad as we’ll see next week — Eight has no Terry arc to distract from these shortcomings, which are then magnified in the spotlight — but the series’ trademark display of humor and heart, two qualities still in decent supply, are less organically played in tandem here. And true balance is hard to find… particularly in the last trimester, after Stander departs to groom the upcoming Andy Griffith Show, whose backdoor pilot is part of this collection… Speaking of which, that isn’t the only famous episode below. Actually, even with the lower baseline quality, Seven is the only year next to Six with genuine gems, and though Six had more of them, Seven has three high-octane half-hours, including the funniest of the entire series. These are the year’s best guest star show, “That Ol’ Devil Jack Benny”; a fun Lucy/Van Dyke-esque slapsticky outing, “Kathy Crashes TV”; and the supreme, surprising, and hilarious “Danny And The Little Men.” These three offerings, and the fact that the year’s overall quality is still higher than ALL of what’s to come, keeps Season Seven of The Danny Thomas Show a comedic contender. And I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify its finest.

 

01) Episode 186: “Terry Comes Home” (Aired: 10/05/59)

Terry’s return home is a difficult adjustment for Danny.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Seven opens up by introducing us to a new Terry; she’s not as natural or believable as the old Terry, but she’ll do, especially in a sensitive, down-to-earth story that, despite a convenient ending, prioritizes relatable drama and honest, interpersonal moments when dad has to adjust to his daughter coming home from a year in Europe as a seemingly mature, sophisticated woman. Their differing perspectives look to provide rich conflict going forward, but this is the only entry that uses them without undermining character believability for yuks.

02) Episode 192: “Terry Goes Bohemian” (Aired: 11/16/59)

Danny and Pat worry when Terry begins hanging out with beatniks.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

If the premiere was about honesty, then this is about broad comedy, with another clash of Terry vs. Danny (and Pat, her week-old beau), as the show spoofs beatniks in a way that’s extremely audacious, and therefore welcome as far as laughs are concerned, but far less realistic and character-rooted than usual. These hahas sit a bit uneasily alongside the would-be drama of the climax, yet the ambition of the humor is appreciated, and Stander’s era can support it.

03) Episode 193: “Rusty, The Weight-Lifter” (Aired: 11/23/59)

Danny tries to bolster Rusty’s self-esteem by making him think he’s strong.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

There were two potential Rusty-focused installments that I could have highlighted this season — and only two, because of how much the year is otherwise consumed by Terry — and this is the best of them, mostly because its story, a sincere father/son show where Danny hopes to give Rusty courage, uses the latter’s maturation as its subtext without being redundant. Also, it’s got one of the funniest segments here, a physical comedy weightlifting scene that Hamer clearly enjoys and is worth the figurative price of admission. A good blend of humor and heart.

04) Episode 196: “Danny And The Little Men” (Aired: 12/14/59)

Kathy and Terry concoct a scheme to challenge their men’s sanity.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Danny And The Little Men” also has my vote as the funniest of the entire series, and if there’s any half-hour of Danny Thomas that comes close to matching the comedy offered by the classics of both I Love Lucy and, in particular, Dick Van Dyke, it’s this one. For while the premise, of Kathy and Terry hiring a group of little men to dress up as green aliens and make their husband/fiancé agree that they’re overworked and not spending enough time with their ladies, is an ostentatious idea that consumes focus as a gimmick, the narrative is otherwise built on one of the series’ bedrocks: the clash between the work and the home. You see, Kathy’s scheme is sparked by her desire to keep her husband from working so hard, so it does stem from a believable place — and it’s an objective that, for this series and these characters, is familiar and thesis-connected, no matter how long it’s been since that thesis mattered. Additionally, we’ve always WANTED this series to be funnier, so if it can do so without sacrificing the characters’ authenticity — and because the women’s plot is well-known to the audience and we’re entirely in on the joke, we have a sustaining logic — these big laughs are worth celebrating, just as they are in some of the more surreal, idea-based Dick Van Dyke outings (specifically one famous entry that coincidentally features Danny Thomas). Now, the series will do more shows predicated on this gaslighting notion in the years to come, but never again so imaginatively or well-motivated as this truly hilarious, guffaw-yielding gem. For these reasons, this isn’t just a strong sample of the series, it’s a strong sample of a (still) elevated, though soon fleeting, period in the series’ life.

05) Episode 198: “Kathy Crashes TV” (Aired: 12/28/59)

Danny aims to discourage Kathy’s show biz ambitions.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Another one of the season’s best, “Kathy Crashes TV” finds the leading lady acting a bit more like a character than a human, which is mostly a concern because her usually grounded depiction chafes any time she’s forced to project swings of emotion. But unlike installments such as “Jealousy,” where her tenuously motivated decisions are supposed to propel story/comedy, this one makes her the butt of its joke, à la Laura Petrie or Lucy Ricardo, the latter of whom is really invoked, as Danny tries to quell his wife’s show biz ambitions by arranging for her to have a difficult time in a commercial, which allows for a terrific slapstick centerpiece where Kathy is repeatedly put through the wringer. It’s a lot of fun, and if it feels more like a Lucy than a Danny, that should be counted as a blessing. Joe Flynn guests.

06) Episode 200: “That Ol’ Devil Jack Benny” (Aired: 01/11/60)

Danny believes that Jack Benny has made a deal with the devil.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Jack Benny, whose memorable star turn in last year’s premiere was a choice showcase for his well-established persona, enjoys the same utilization in this broader entry, which turns to an elaborate dream sequence where Danny believes that Jack has made a pact with the devil (played by Gale Gordon) in exchange for having his “Well!” catchphrase turned into a goldmine — something he offers to do for Danny with “Gee!” Ordinarily, the gaudy premise would bother me, as would the fact that, unlike Benny’s earlier appearance, this one prioritizes him over our lead, but because it is built on one of the best comedic characterizations of the era (Benny’s), the big laughs override the criticism. How can you ignore anything as boldly funny?

07) Episode 201: “How To Be Head Of The House” (Aired: 01/18/60)

Danny and Kathy fight their battle of the sexes through Pat and Terry.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Probably the closest the season comes to proving that its intended trade-off with Danny/Kathy and Terry/Pat might have had some viability, this excursion channels a typical sitcom battle of the sexes between the older pair, who are feuding over a painting, into a larger fight about honeymoon plans between their younger counterparts. As is often the case this year, we make allowances for some of the emotional contrivances because the laughs deliver, especially with the way this one uses the painting as a sight gag to land boffo comedic moments and remind us of its fairly smart narrative construction. An ideal ambassador for this unique season.

08) Episode 205: “Danny Meets Andy Griffith” (Aired: 02/15/60)

Danny gets arrested in the small town of Mayberry.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Admittedly, this isn’t a true Danny Thomas because it’s a backdoor pilot for a series starring Andy Griffith, and since it doesn’t boast most of the former’s particulars, I can’t recommend it on our usual terms. At the same time, it’s not a great example of the latter either — due to a variety of issues, from the multi-cam format to Frances Bavier playing a role that’s NOT Aunt Bee — and yet, it’s an important, memorable TV milestone in a season that could use it.

09) Episode 211: “The Wedding” (Aired: 03/28/60)

Danny feels unwanted on the day before his daughter’s wedding.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Just as the series wisely chose to keep Danny and Kathy’s nuptials off-screen, Terry and Pat’s “Wedding” show is actually set prior to the event, claiming a story where Danny feels squeezed out and unwanted as the rest of the family manically plans for Terry’s big day. What I like best is that it doesn’t shy away from sweet moments, but they mostly feel earned, and they’re balanced by worthwhile laughs that — surprisingly — don’t go broad either, making for an entry that, as Terry’s arc is nearing its completion, sort of takes us back to the show’s beginnings (when there was a different wife and a different Terry, but I digress)…

10) Episode 212: “Three On A Honeymoon” (Aired: 04/04/60)

Danny crashes Terry’s honeymoon.

Written by Iz Elinson & Fred S. Fox | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Although there was an emotional full circle quality to the above, this follow-up truly puts a button on Terry’s arc — it’s the last time both she and Pat appear on this series — when possessive Danny crashes the pair’s honeymoon. It’s a bit forced, but the moment where he appears at the door is undeniably hilarious, and because it’s rooted in Danny’s affection and overprotective regard for his daughter, it’s justified, allowing him/us to finally let her go.

 

Other notable entries that merit mention include: “Tonoose, The Matchmaker,” the best of the year’s three Tonoose shows because it uses his typical story structure to actually advance the Terry/Pat arc, and in a fun, one-act-esque teleplay, along with “Rusty And The Tomboy,” the year’s second finest Rusty show and a continuation of an idea from last year. Of more Honorable Mention quality are “Terry Meets Him,” which introduces Pat, and “Danny, The Housewife,” which has a funny premise (Danny having to homemake) but doesn’t maximize it.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The Danny Thomas Show goes to…

“Danny And The Little Men”

 

 

Come back next week for more Danny Thomas and tomorrow, a new Wildcard Wednesday!