Friday, 18 September 2015
The 50th Anniversaries of I Dream of Jeannie and Get Smart
There are those today who claim that we are in the middle of the Golden Age of Television. That this is not necessarily the case can be proven by simply looking over television schedules from decades ago. At a time when there were only three broadcast networks in the United States more quality shows were sometimes produced in a season than on the five major broadcast networks and the many cable channels and streaming services today. A perfect example of this is the 1965-1966 television season. Fifty years ago today two classic situation comedies debuted back to back and on the same network at that. I Dream of Jeannie debuted at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central and Get Smart at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central, both on NBC. Both shows have persisted on television ever since and are widely regarded as classics today.
The first of the two shows to debut, I Dream of Jeannie, centred on astronaut Captain Tony Nelson (played by Larry Hagman), who while stranded on an island finds a bottle containing a 2000 year old genie. Despite her age the genie, named Jeannie (played by Barbara Eden), looks and behaves like a twentysomething woman. Jeannie returns with Tony to his home in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Mr. Sheldon came up with the idea of a show featuring a genie. Unlike previous portrayals of genies on film, the genie would be a nubile young woman rather some large man. In many respects it should come as no surprise that Sidney Sheldon should hit upon the idea of a show centred on a genie. One of the hit shows of the 1963-1964 season was My Favourite Martian, in which an ordinary reporter found himself living with a Martian. By the 1964-1965 season My Favourite Martian would be joined by other shows in which a mere mortal was living with someone extraordinary, including Bewitched (an ordinary man married to a witch) and My Living Doll (a man living with a robot). Mr. Sheldon met with Screen Gems, who were enthusiastic about the project. In no time Screen Gems had sold I Dream of Jeannie to NBC.
While Screen Gems had sold I Dream of Jeannie to NBC, that is not to say that the network did not have some reservations about a show in which a nubile young female genie was living with a single mortal man. Mort Werner, senior vice president for programming, gave Sidney Sheldon a memo from NBC's Broadcast Standards, essentially the network's department in charge of self-censorship. The memo was a full eighteen pages long and included such dictates as "They must never touch each other", "Jeannie must never go to Tony's bedroom", and "Never let Tony go into Jeannie's bottle." Mort Werner expressed his concerns about the show and was reassured by Mr. Sheldon that there would be no sexual innuendoes or double entendres.
NBC Broadcast Standards and Mort Werner weren't the only ones with concerns about the show. Sidney Sheldon also received a memo from a vice president at the network who referred to I Dream of Jeannie as a "one joke show" and wrote that it was "not going to work" and the show "will be short-lived." In Sidney Sheldon's reply to the NBC executive, he pointed out that I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and The Beverly Hillbillies were also all one-joke shows. Sidney Sheldon heard no more about I Dream of Jeannie being a one-joke show.
With regards to casting, Barbara Eden was the only actress who was auditioned for the part of Jeannie. Miss Eden already had a very successful career, having already starred in the syndicated sitcom How to Marry a Millionaire and having appeared in such films as The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), and The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964). For the role of Captain Anthony "Tony" Nelson about a half dozen actors were auditioned. The role went to Larry Hagman, the son of Broadway star Mary Martin and an upcoming actor who had appeared small parts in such films as Ensign Pulver (1964) and Fail Safe (1964). For the role of Tony's best friend and confidant (and the only other person who knows Jeannie is a genie) Roger Healey several actors were tested for the part. The role eventually went to nightclub comic Bill Daily, who really had no television or film credits at the time. Veteran character actor Hayden Rorke played Dr. Alfred Bellows, the Air Force psychiatrist for NASA who was always suspicious of the sometime odd circumstances in which Tony found himself.
Like many sitcoms of the era I Dream of Jeannie had an animated title sequence. The title sequence essentially portrayed Tony Nelson finding Jeannie's bottle on the island, opening it, and Jeannie emerging from the bottle. The sequence was created by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, who had also created the animated title sequences for the movies The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). DePatie-Freleng Enterprises also created the animated title sequence for The Wild Wild West, which debuted the same season as I Dream of Jeannie. The theme song for I Dream Jeannie during its first season was a jazz waltz composed by by Richard Wess. Sidney Sheldon never liked Mr. Wess's composition and as a result it was replaced with the start of the second season with a new theme entitled "Jeannie" composed by Hugo Montenegro.
While shooting the first season there was one complication. Quite simply, Barbara Eden discovered she was pregnant. To hide her pregnancy they simply shot her from above the waist and added more veils to her genie costume. Fortunately they made it from the third week of her pregnancy to the eighth month of her pregnancy without viewers being any wiser.
While both NBC and Screen Gems expected I Dream of Jeannie to flop, the show actually did moderately well in the ratings. For its first season I Dream of Jeannie ranked no. 27 out of all the shows on the air. It was with the show's second season that it made the move to colour, NBC becoming the first network to have 100% of its primetime programming aired colour. For its second season NBC also moved I Dream of Jeannie to Monday night at 8:00 Eastern/7:00 Central following a new show called The Monkees. Perhaps because of the change in time slot, I Dream of Jeannie did not do as well in the ratings. It did not rank in the top thirty shows for the year.
Unfortunately I Dream of Jeannie would never have the same time slot from season to season. For its third season NBC moved I Dream of Jeannie to 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central on Tuesday Night. For its fourth it was shifted to Monday night at 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central. This particular time slot appears to have the best for the show. I Dream of Jeannie performed better in that time slot than it did in any other. It ranked no. 26 in the ratings for the year. Sadly NBC moved the show for its fifth and final season to Tuesday night at 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central. Its ratings faltered and it was cancelled, although it seems almost certain that other circumstances contributed to its cancellation beyond the shift in time slots (more on that later).
The biggest change during the show would come during the fifth season when Tony married Jeannie. It was towards end of the fourth season that Sidney Sheldon received a call from Mort Werner of NBC. Mr. Werner expressed the network's desire for Jeannie and Tony to get married and implied that the show might not be picked up for a fifth season if they did not. Sidney Sheldon was firmly against the idea, believing that a marriage between Jeannie and Tony would destroy any sexual tension on the show. The cast also disliked the idea and even went so far as to call Mort Werner to express their disapproval. Unfortunately, Mr. Werner stood firm on his insistence that Jeannie and Tony would be married.
As it turned out Sidney Sheldon and the cast of I Dream of Jeannie were correct in their belief that a marriage between Jeannie and Tony would kill the show. After experiencing all time high ratings in its fourth season (ranking no. 26 for the year), the ratings for I Dream of Jeannie plummeted. Ultimately I Dream of Jeannie was cancelled after 5 seasons and 139 episodes.
Reruns of I Dream of Jeannie entered syndication in the fall of 1970 where it proved to be one of the most successful syndicated reruns of all time. In fact, the October 6 1971 issue of Variety reported that I Dream of Jeannie was the first off-network series, airing in syndication, to best network shows in the ratings. Independent station WPIX in New York City aired reruns of I Dream of Jeannie back to back at 7:00-8:00 PM in primetime. The reruns beat their completion on the networks with an overnight Nielsen count with a 13 rating and 23 share.
The continued popularity of I Dream of Jeannie would lead to a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon loosely inspired by the show. Jeannie debuted on September 8 1973 on CBS. The show actually had very little in common with the original show beyond centring on a genie named Jeannie (who, for some reason, was a redhead). There would be two reunion movies. The first, I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later, aired on NBC on October 20 1985. Barbara Eden, Bill Daily, and Hayden Rorke returned as Jeannie, Roger, and Dr. Bellows respectively. Since Larry Hagman was tied up with shooting Dallas at the time, Wayne Rogers played the role of Tony. I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later did very well in the ratings. The second reunion movie, I Still Dream of Jeannie, aired on NBC on October 20 1991. Barbara Eden and Bill Daily returned as Jeannie and Roger. Since Larry Hagman was unavailable due to his commitment to the TV show Dallas, it was explained that Tony was on a top secret mission for NASA.
To this day I Dream of Jeannie has continued to be popular in syndication. It still airs on several local stations throughout the United States. Over the years It has also aired on the cable channels Nick at Nite and TV Land, as well as the broadcast classic television network ME-TV.
Perhaps more so than other shows of the era, I Dream of Jeannie could at times have inconsistencies in its continuity. This was even true of how Jeannie came to be in the bottle. In the first season it was established that Jeannie had been a human woman who had been turned into a genie by an evil djinn (later revealed to be the Blue Djinn) when she turned down his proposal of marriage. Indeed, not only was Jeannie originally human, but her family was human as well. By the third season, however, it was established that Jeannie had always been a genie, as had her family.
There were even greater problems with continuity when it came to whether genies could be photographed or not. Early in the series it was established that genies cannot be photographed. In the third season episode “Who Are You Calling a Jeannie?" it is even established that genies cannot even be x-rayed. Despite this, in the third season episode “The Second Greatest Con Artist in the World" not only is Jeannie photographed, but her picture even appears in a newspaper. By the fifth season, however, in the episode "The Wedding", it is once more said that genies cannot be photographed. In its five year run there would be yet other glitches in the show's continuity, some greater than others.
Despite the passing resemblance of the show to Bewitched and its several lapses in its continuity, I Dream of Jeannie remains one of the most successful and beloved reruns in syndication. Much of the credit must go to the show's remarkable cast, quite possibly one of the best in any sitcom. As Jeannie, Barbara Eden was simultaneously sexy, impetuous, intelligent, naive, and possessed of a child-like wonder at the world. Larry Hagman presented a perfect contrast to Jeannie with Tony Nelson, who was serious and grounded in what he thought was the real world (or at least a world where genies couldn't perform magic on a whim). Bill Daily and Hayden Rorke both played their roles perfectly. It seems possible that I Dream of Jeannie might not be remembered if it had a lesser cast.
Ultimately the high quality of I Dream of Jeannie, as well as the sheer imagination that went into the show, are why the show still remains popular after fifty years. A show with only moderate ratings while on the air, it has since become a classic.
The origins of Get Smart go back to Talent Associates, a production company founded by legendary producer David Susskind and Alfred L. Levy. Daniel Melnick, formerly an executive at ABC, joined the company in 1963. Over the years Talent Associates had produced such shows as The Goodyear/Philco Television Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theatre, and East Side/West Side. In 1964 David Susskind and Daniel Melnick wanted to launch a situation comedy. The two of them found inspiration by looking through a list of box office lists in the Hollywood trade papers. In 1963 The Pink Panther, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau was a huge hit. In 1964 the James Bond movie Goldfinger was a huge hit. It occurred to Daniel Melnick that combining elements of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau could produce an idea for a sitcom.
Daniel Melnick took his idea to writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Mel Brooks had begun his television career writing for The Admiral Broadway Revue, the legendary Your Show of Shows, and Caesar's Hour. Buck Henry had written the screenplay for the movie The Troublemaker (1964) and written for the American version of the TV series That Was the Week That Was. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry took Daniel Melnick's idea of a show crossing James Bond and Inspector Clouseau, and created Get Smart.
Get Smart centred upon bumbling Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams), Agent 86 for the secret counter-intelligence agency CONTROL. Max was clumsy, none too bright, and a bit too sure of himself. His partner was Agent 99 (played by Barbara Feldon), a beautiful, intelligent, and competent spy who for, whatever reason, was in love with Max. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 reported the head of CONTROL, simply known as "the Chief (played by Edward Platt)". CONTROL's usual opponent was the " international organization of evil" KAOS. Throughout the series Max and 99 faced several KAOS agents (often played by big name guest stars), including their archenemy Conrad Siegfried (played by Bernie Kopell) and his assistant Starker (played by King Moody).
Edgar Scherick, Vice President of Programming for ABC, bought the pilot script for Get Smart. Tom Poston, then best known for the "Man on the Street" routines on The Steve Allen Show and perhaps now best known as handyman George Utley on Newhart, was signed to play Maxwell Smart if ABC picked up the show. As it turned out, ABC did not pick up the show. Edgar Scherick not only thought the pilot script for Get Smart was not funny, but he even said that it was "un-American". Not only did he reject Get Smart, but he even asked for ABC's money back.
It was Talent Associates themselves who cast Barbara Feldon as Agent 99. She had worked as a model for Revlon and in the early Sixties may have been known for a commercial for Top Brass hair dressing in which she appeared. Barbara Feldon had already guest starred in two Talent Associates shows, East Side/West Side and Mr. Broadway. It was in the latter that she played a sultry industrial spy. Edward Platt, who had appeared in such films as They Came to Cordura (1959) and North by Northwest (1959), as well as making numerous guest appearances on television, was cast as the Chief.
The pilot for Get Smart, "Mr. Big", was written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. While the regular series would be filmed in colour, "Mr. Big" was shot in black and white. Michael Dunn, soon to be forever known ad Dr. Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West, played the villain of the title, Mr. Big. The pilot also introduced the character of Fang, "Agent K-9", a rather poorly trained dog who worked for CONTROL. Fang was played by a dog named Red, who had earlier played Jasper on Bachelor Father. Unfortunately Red was very poor at taking instructions and as a result shooting with Red often ran overtime. As a result Fang stopped appearing on Get Smart during the second season.
Get Smart debuted on NBC on September 18 1965 and immediately proved to one of the new hits of the season. Many of Maxwell Smart's catchphrases, including "Sorry about that, Chief," "Would you believe..," "Missed it by that much," "the old (fill in the blank) trick", and "I asked you not to tell me that" caught on with the general public. An individual at NASA's ground control during the Gemini 7 mission even used, "Sorry about that, Chief", when an accident occurred. The various sight gags on the show also proved popular, including Max's shoe phone, the Cone of Silence, and the bullet-proof invisible wall in Max's apartment, among others. Ultimately Get Smart ranked no. 12 in the ratings for the 1965-1966 season.
Over time Get Smart would develop a large number of recurring characters. Larabee (played by Robert Karvelas) was the Chief's slow-witted assistant and first appeared late in the first season and continued to appear until the end of the show. During the first season Agent 44 (played by Victor French) was a CONTROL agent who would appear in the oddest places, such as a file cabinet or some other small space. From the second season to the third season, Agent 44's role would be assumed by Agent 13 (played by David Ketchum), who also appeared in odd places. Hymie the Robot (played by Richard Gautier), was a robot built by KAOS, but who changed sides to work for CONTROL, Hymie first appeared during the first season and would continue to appear until fourth season. Of course, Siegfried and Starker first appeared in the show's second season and continued to appear until the show's final season.
The success of Get Smart was such that a theatrical film based on the TV show was considered during its first season. The project was abandoned when another feature film based on a TV series, Munster Go Home! (1966), bombed at the box office. What would have been the script for the Get Smart movie then became the three part, second season episode "A Man Called Smart".
Get Smart slipped in the ratings during its second season, ranking no. 22 for the year. While its ratings had slipped, the show did win two Emmy Awards, for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series (for Don Adams) and Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy (for Buck Henry and Leonard Stern's writing on the episode "Ship of Spies").
Unfortunately, ratings for Get Smart would continue to fall during its third season. The drop in ratings may have been partially due to new competition in the form of popular family comedy My Three Sons, which CBS had moved opposite Get Smart at the start of the 1967-1968 season. That having been said, it seems more likely that the ratings drop was simply due to the fact that the spy craze had pretty much come to an end in 1967. Indeed, several spy films released during the year (Billion Dollar Brain, Casino Royale, Fathom and The President's Analyst among them) fared poorly at the box office. On television many of the spy dramas, some of them smash hits upon their debut, were also failing in the ratings. It should come as no surprise, then, that a spy parody such as Get Smart would see its fortunes change.
Regardless, Get Smart did continue to do well at the Emmys. It won the Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for the 1967-1968 season, and was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series (for Barbara Feldon).
Fortunately Get Smart would still receive a fifth season, as it was picked up almost immediately by CBS. CBS moved Get Smart from the 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 Central, Saturday night time slot it occupied during its entire run on NBC to Friday night at 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central. The show also saw many other changes. Except for Larabee, nearly every single secondary character on the show was dropped. Siegfried and Starker appeared only once during the entire season, in the episode "Ice Station Siegfried". Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 had twins (born during the November sweeps period), but the twins swiftly fell by the wayside. Ultimately ratings for Get Smart continued to decline and CBS cancelled the show at the end of the season. For the first time in the series' run, it did not even receive one Emmy nomination.
Following its cancellation by CBS in 1970 Get Smart went on to a highly successful run in syndication. The show proved popular enough as a syndicated rerun that in 1980 a film based on the show debuted in theatres, The Nude Bomb. Unfortunately, The Nude Bomb departed considerably from the TV show. Max no longer worked for CONTROL, but instead for an agency called PITS (Provisional Intelligence Tactical Service). Aside from Max, only two characters from the original series appeared, Larabee (played by Robert Karvelas) and Agent 13 (although he was played by Joey Forman rather than David Ketchum). The Nude Bomb was not well received by fans of the TV show and bombed at the box office. It would later air on television under the title The Return of Maxwell Smart.
While The Nude Bomb turned out to be a dud both at the box office and with fans of Get Smart, a 1989 television reunion movie would receive a much better reception. Get Smart, Again! reunited much of the original cast, including Don Adams as Max, Barbara Feldon as 99, Bernie Koppell as Siegfried, King Moody as Starker, Robert Karvelas as Larabee, and David Ketchum as Agent 13. Get Smart, Again! was not only well received by critics, but also received very good ratings. It aired on February 26 1989 on ABC (the network that had originally rejected the series).
The revival did nothing to decrease the popularity of the original series. The entire run of Get Smart has been released on DVD and on August 10 2015 it was released on digital streaming platforms for the first time. In 2008 a feature film based on the series starring Steve Carrell as Max, Anne Hathaway as 99, and Terence Stamp as Siegfried, was released. The film received mixed reviews from critics and only did moderately well at the box office. A sequel was announced in 2008, but as of yet nothing has materialised.
Over the years Get Smart has remained popular as a syndicated rerun. It would be aired on such cable channels as TBS, WGN, and Nick-at-Nite. It currently airs on broadcast classic television network ME-TV.
It is easy to understand the success of Get Smart upon it debut in 1965. Get Smart debuted at a time when spoofs were exceedingly popular on television. Indeed, the same season that Get Smart debuted so too did F Troop, Hogan's Heroes, and Batman (as a mid-season replacement). At the same time as a cycle towards spoofs was beginning on American broadcast television, the spy craze as already sweeping the United States. As a spy spoof Get Smart was then able to take advantage of two popular trends on American television at the time--spoofs and spies. It would have been surprising if Get Smart had not been a success.
Of course, this does not answer the question of why Get Smart has continued to be popular for the past fifty years. This can be simply answered by pointing out that Get Smart was a show of very high quality. Indeed, it not only received largely positive notices from critics, but it also received multiple Emmy nominations for every season it was on except its last. The episodes of Get Smart were written by some of the best writers in the industry. Chris Hayward had written for various Jay Ward cartoons, as well as The Steve Allen Show and The Colgate Comedy Hour. With Allan Burns he co-created The Munsters. Producer Leonard B. Stern had written for such shows as The Phil Silvers Show, The Honeymooners, and The Steve Allen Show. Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso had written for the American version of That Was the Week That Was and would go on to write for The Monkees. Get Smart had several great writers work on the show, and as a result its episodes were of a higher quality than most shows of the time.
Of course, Get Smart benefited from an excellent cast. Don Adams was perfectly suited as Maxwell Smart, as was Barbara Eden perfectly suited as Agent 99. The rest of the cast was remarkable as well: Edward Platt as the Chief, Robert Karvelas as Larabee, David Ketchum as Agent 13, and so on. Bernie Koppell as Siegfried ranks as one of the greatest villains in American television. Between its writing and its cast there should be little wonder it has remained popular for fifty years.
I Dream of Jeannie and Get Smart debuted back to back on the same network and have remained popular ever since. In the years since it has been a rarity since two classic shows, especially ones with lasting success in syndication, have debuted together. What is more, this was not an isolated incident in fall of 1965--The Wild Wild West and Hogan's Heroes also debuted back to back on CBS that season. This would seem to lay to waste any argument those who think now is the Golden Age of Television might have.