Sunday, January 2, 2005

The Doris Day Show

One of the shows I remember as a child is The Doris Day Show. I think there are only three reasons I remember the series. The first is that it starred Doris Day, an actress well known for her motion picture career. I am not sure that I saw any of her movies before The Doris Day Show, but I rather think I did while it was still on the air. The second is that it was on Monday night, when my family's TV set was tuned to CBS. After all, this was the night of Here's Lucy, Mayberry R.F.D., and The Carol Burnett Show. Finally, I remember the show because it seemed as if it changed format with every season!Indeed, The Doris Day Show demonstrates in miniature the changes that were overtaking television in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

The origin of The Doris Day Show are interesting in and of itself. In April 1968, Day's husband Marty Melcher died. Melcher's death brought to light the fact that he had been using Day's fortune to make various investments. Quite simply, Day was effectively bankrupt. His death also brought to light a deal Melcher had made with CBS in the spring of 1967 to star Day in a TV series. Day had no knowledge whatsoever of the deal. Although Day didn't particularly care for television, she needed the income from the series to win back the money she'd lost in court, not to mention to place her more solid financial ground.

The original incarnation of The Doris Day Show cast Day as Doris Martin, a widow and mother of two sons (Billy and Toby) who moves back to the ranch of her father Buck (Denver Pyle). The Doris Day Show was then effectively both a family comedy and a rural comedy, focusing on Doris's efforts to raise her childen and to readjust to life in the country. The second season brought a bit of a change to the series. Doris became the excecutive secretary to Mr. Nicholson (McLean Stevenson), editor of Today's World magazine.

It was the third season that brought a major change to the series. Doris and her two sons moved to San Francisco in order to be closer to her work. They lived in an apartment over a restaurant owned by Louie Pallucci (Bernie Kopell) and Angie Pallucci (Kaye Ballard). Doris still worked at Today's World, even acting as a reporter from time to time.

The fourth season still saw Doris Martin working at Today's World, but mysteriously she had become single with no kids in sight. Her new boss was Sy Bennett (John Dehner). I remember being somewhat puzzled at this change as a child. I wondered what happened to her children. After all, the series in its fourth season made no reference to them whatsoever. It is as if they not only ceased to exist, but ceased to have ever existed!

The Doris Day Show was very successful from the beginning. In its second season it ranked #10 in the top 25 shows for the season. In its third season it ranked #20. In its fourth season, even after the radical changes to the show, it ranked #23. The only reason the show ended was that Doris Day decided she could go nowhere else with the character of Doris Martin.

As I said, earlier, the changes in the format of The Doris Day Show reflected the changes that faced television in the late Sixties and the early Seventies. When The Doris Day Show debuted it was a family comedy, one of a number that would debut in the late Sixties (The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family were two others). It was also one in a long run of rural comedies (The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies being the most popular). Unfortunately, for rural comedies, the networks had discovered demographics in the Sixites. It was not enough to know how many people were watching a TV series, now the networks wanted to know who was watching it. The Madison Avenue advertisers wanted shows that appealed to young urban professionals (what would come to be called "Yuppies" in the Eighties). Because of this, the networks started purging their schedules of any shows that appealed to rural or older audiences. ABC cancelled The Lawrence Welk Show. CBS went even further, cancelling nearly all of their rural comedies, some which were still getting very good ratings (Mabyerry R.F.D. was still in the top twenty). It was then wise for Doris Day to move her character and her sons to San Francisco with the third season. To have done otherwise may have well killed the show. By the 1972-1973 season, the family comedies that had debuted in the late Sixties were on their way out. Both The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch would leave the air in 1974. Among the hit series of the early Seventies was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so it made sense to turn Doris Martin into a single career woman. The Doris Day Show then reflects the changes that occurred in American television from 1968 to 1973 quite well. It went from a rural, family comedy to an urban, family comedy to a comedy about a single career woman.

I rather suspect that the The Doris Day Show is rather unique in televison history. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any shows that changed their formats nearly as often. In fact, I have to wonder if the final incarnation of The Doris Day Show should not be treated as a different show, but with the same title and the same name for the lead character! At any rate, the changes in format didn't seemed to hurt the series in the ratings, even if it confused me as a child...

1 comment:

Allison said...

I agree i thought the Doris day show was unique, as for it going down in history i think Doris day should go down in history she is fantastic in everything she does,nice blog page by way.