Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Addams Family Debuted 50 Years Ago Tonight

It was 50 years ago tonight that the TV show The Addams Family debuted on ABC in the United States. The series was based on the famous cartoons by Charles Addams published in The New Yorker and other popular magazines. While the show only ran for two seasons and 65 episodes, it would become a success in syndication where it still airs. Since then it has inspired two Saturday morning cartoons, two feature films, and even a musical.

It was on 6 February 1932 that Charles Addams's first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker.  Despite this it would be some time before what would come to be known as "the Addams Family" would make their first appearance. The first cartoon that identifiably featured members of the Addams Family would not appear until 1938. That first cartoon depicted a vacuum salesman's encounter with a tall brunette in a slinky dress (who would be named "Morticia" in the TV series) and a large bearded man (the prototype for the family's butler, called "Lurch" on the TV show). Over time other members of the family would appear in the cartoons: the short, stocky father who always dressed in a suit (called "Gomez" on the TV show); a tiny, dark haired little girl and her squat brother (called "Wednesday" and "Pugsley" on the TV show); a balding fellow who dressed like a monk (called "Uncle Fester" on the TV show); and so on. Although the general public referred to the family in Charles Addams's cartoons collectively as "the Addams Family" after their creator, none of the characters officially had names. That would not come until the television series.

The "Addams Family" cartoons proved very popular, with collections of Charles Addams's cartoons published in books. It was in 1963 that television producer David Levy was walking with a friend down 5th Avenue in New York City and passed a display of Charles Addams' books in a store window, including Homebodies, which featured a portrait of the entire Addams Family. It occurred to David Levy that "the Addams Family" might make a good basis for a television show. He approached Charles Addams with his proposal for an "Addams Family" TV series and Mr. Addams approved.

Charles Addams would only make a small, but very important contribution to the TV show based on his cartoons. He provided names for the various characters, as well as brief descriptions of each of them. Of the characters' names, Charles Addams was undecided whether the family's patriarch should be called "Gomez" or "Repelli". It would be actor John Astin, who was cast in the role, who decided the character should be called "Gomez". Charles Addams had decided the Addamses' son should be called "Pubert", but the name was rejected as sounding too sexual. Pubert was then named Pugsley.  In the end, then, the Addams Family were Morticia Addams (the matriarch of the clan, played by Carolyn Jones); Gomez Addams (the fun loving patriarch of the family, played by John Astin); Uncle Fester (Morticia's uncle who loved explosives, played by Jackie Coogan); Lurch (the Addamses' Frankensteinian butler, played by Ted Cassidy); Wednesday (a sweet natured little girl who liked such things as spiders and beheaded dolls, played by Lisa Loring); Pugsley (a good natured little boy drawn to more mainstream things than the other Addamses, played by Ken Weatherwax); and Grandmama (Gomez's potion making mother, played by Blossom Rock).

Among the regular characters on the show was a disembodied hand called "Thing". "Thing" was played by Ted Cassidy's hand or, in those instance when Lurch and Thing appeared together, by assistant director Jack Voglin's hand. While it is often assumed that  Thing was created for the series, this was not the case. Thing appeared as early as 1954, as a disembodied hand changing records on a phonograph in one of Charles Addams's cartoons.

That is not to say that a new Addams family member  did not emerge from the TV show, although he appeared in the cartoons before the TV show debuted. At the suggestion of David Levy, Charles Addams added a hair covered creature. The new character made his debut in the 12 October 1963 issue of The New Yorker. The cartoon featured the character answering a phone with the words, "This is it speaking." David Levy add an extra "T" to the characters' name and he became "Cousin Itt." Cousin Itt (played by Felix Silla in most episodes) was Gomez's cousin. Covered by hair that went all the way to the floor, he spoke in gibberish that only the Addamses could understand.

The line producer on The Addams Family was Nat Perrin, who had already had a very remarkable career. Mr. Perrin started out in the business as a gag writer for Groucho Marx and worked on such classic Marx Brothers vehicles as Monkey Business (1931) and Duck Soup (1933). He would go onto write the screenplays for such films as Kid Millions (1934), Song of the Thin Man (1947), and The Petty Girl (1950). On television he served as a producer on the syndicated sitcom How to Marry a Millionaire. Nat Perrin imbued The Addams Family with the manic energy of a Marx Brothers film. What is more, Gomez Addams was modelled to a large degree after Groucho Marx. Not only did he always have a cigar, but Gomez would make the same sort of mocking comments and use the same sort of skewed reasoning that Groucho did.

What is more, Nat Perrin insured that Morticia and Gomez were unlike any other couple ever seen on television. Not only did they never argue between themselves, but their marriage may have been the most egalitarian on television up to that time (in fact, Morticia may have been the dominant spouse in the marriage). Unlike many previous married couples on television, not only were Morticia and Gomez open in their affection for each other, they were very open. A word of French from Morticia would send Gomez into kissing her uncontrollably, and he wrote poems for her. Morticia and Gomez's dialogue was often laced with so much sexual innuendo that it is often surprising that it made its way onto television in 1964.

The Addams Family debuted on 18 September 1964 and proved fairly popular. For the 1964-1965 season it ranked #23 in the Nielsen ratings. The Addams Family produced a good deal of merchandising, including trading cards, a board game, a lunchbox, and an Aurora model of the Addams Family mansion. The show would even produce a pop single in the form of The Lurch". "The Lurch" was a dance song performed by Ted Cassidy as Lurch and was released in October 1965. Ted Cassidy even performed the song as Lurch on the TV shows  Shindig, Shivaree, and Hollywood a Go Go. Ted Cassidy as Lurch would even make a cameo on the 7 December 1966 episode of Batman ("The Penguin's Nest").

Unfortunately, despite the popularity of The Addams Family, its ratings would fall in its second season. Indeed, it did not even rank in the top thirty shows for the 1965-1966 season. It is difficult to say why ratings for The Addams Family fell (it certainly wasn't a decline in the quality of the show), but it seem likely that it was due to new competition on Friday night. In the fall of 1965 CBS debuted a new sitcom opposite The Addams Family entitled Hogan's Heroes. Hogan's Heroes would prove to be one of the smash hits for the season, ranking #9 for the year. Given how well Hogan's Heroes performed in the Nielsens, it should perhaps not be surprising that The Addams Family fell in the ratings.

While The Addams Family had been cancelled, it was hardly gone. It would go onto a very successful syndication run. Indeed, it is still running in syndication to this day. Four members of the show's original cast ((John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy) provided their voices for the Addams Family's appearance on the Saturday morning cartoon The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972. This would lead to an Addams Family Saturday morning cartoon that ran on NBC from 1973 to 1975 (only Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy reprised their roles from the original show). On 30 October 1977 NBC aired a reunion special entitled Halloween with the New Addams Family that reunited the original cast.

The continued popularity of Charles Addams's original cartoons and the TV series would lead to revivals in other media. In 1991 the feature film The Addams Family, starring Anjelica Huston as Morticia and Raúl Juliá as Gomez, was released. It was followed by a sequel, Addams Family Values, in 1993. Another feature film, Addams Family Reunion, starring Daryl Hannah as Morticia and Tim Curry as Gomez, was released direct to video in 1998. It was followed by a new TV series, The New Addams Family, that aired on the Fox Family Channel from 1998 to 1999. In 2010 a musical, The Addams Family, made its debut in tryouts in Chicago before going onto a run of 35 previews and 722 performances on Broadway.

There can be no doubt that the extraordinary success of the TV show The Addams Family is due to a number of factors, Just as Charles Addams's cartoons had proven before it, there is a market for macabre humour. Quite simply, by laughing about such subjects as death and injury, people overcome their fear or discomfort of such, if only temporarily.  It also seems likely that much of the show's success  lies in the fact that The Addams Family is essentially a show about non-conformists. Not only did the Addamses refuse to conform to others' expectations, but they actually took pride in the fact that that they did not. In many ways, then, the show asserted that is not only all right to be different from everyone else, it is actually commendable.

Ultimately, however, the success of The Addams Family may be due to the fact that at its core it is about a very close-knit, extended family. At a time (the Sixties) when divorce was on the rise, the Addams Family stuck together. Indeed, it must be pointed out that not does only the nuclear family of Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, and Pugsley live in the Addams mansion, but so too do members of the extended family (Uncle Fester and Grandmama). Furthermore, other family members did visit, some often, most notably Cousin Itt and Morticia's sister Ophelia. While the Addamses may not conform to most of society's mores (and make a point of not doing so), in many respects they are a highly traditional family, close knit and very devoted to each other. An argument can be made that the ideal TV family is not the Cleavers or the Bradys, but the Addams Family instead!

The popularity of Charles Addams's cartoons and the TV show based upon them show no sign of fading away any time soon. The show is still seen in syndication and is also available on DVD and through streaming media online as well. Indeed, last October MGM announced plans to reboot The Addams Family as an animated film. Over 75 years since they first appeared in the pages of The New Yorker and fifty years since the TV show, The Addams Family continues to be popular.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 50th Anniversary of Bewitched

It will be 50 years ago tonight that the TV show Bewitched debuted. The show is arguably the most successful programme to debut on the American broadcasting Company (ABC) in the Sixties. It received extremely high ratings for much of its original run and then went onto a phenomenal run as a syndicated rerun. Indeed, nearly 50 years after its debut Bewitched is still being rerun on TV stations and cable channels across the United States, as well as much of the world.

For those few of you who have never seen the series, Bewitched centred on a witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal named Darrin Stevens (originally played by Dick York, later played by Dick Sargent). In the world of Bewitched, witches were exceedingly powerful, able to conjure up nearly anything with a spell. They even lived thousands of years. As such, they tended to look down on mere mortals. Samantha's marriage to Darrin was then not greeted with joy by much of her family, especially not her overbearing mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead). Endora was very unhappy that her daughter would give up her life as a witch and casting spells to be a common homemaker.

Fortunately, for Sam (as she was affectionately called by Darrin), not all of her family shared this attitude. Her favourite Aunt, Clara, had no problem accepting Darrin. Unfortunately, due to her advanced age Clara's powers were failing. As a result, her spells would sometimes go haywire and cause all sorts of chaos, from bringing aliens to Earth to summoning Queen Victoria to the present.

Naturally, Darrin and Samantha chose to keep the fact that she was a witch secret from the mortal world. Even Larry Tate, Darrin's boss at the advertising firm of McMann and Tate, did not know Sam's true nature. This was perhaps fortunate, as Larry's mind was always on making money and bringing new clients to his firm. One can guess what he would probably have wanted to use Sam's powers for! Darrin and Samantha's, nosey neighbour Gladys Kravitz (originally played by Alice Pierce and later played by Sandra Gould) kept a constant eye on the Stephens household and was always certain that there was something strange taking place there. Fortunately, her husband Abner (George Tobias) always dismissed any wild (and usually true) claims that she made.

In addition to the regular characters, other members of Sam's family and the witch community would appear from time to time. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) was a practical joker who often made Darrin the butt of his jokes. Her cousin Serena (played by Elizabeth Montgomery herself) was Sam's brunette look-alike. She was also the wild child of the family, very much at home in the swinging Sixties. Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) was the witch doctor who had to treat Sam any time she fell ill.

While writer Sol Saks is listed as the show's creator in the credits for Bewitched, its creation was actually a bit more complex than one writer with a great idea. The genesis of Bewitched can be traced back to two Screen Gems executives: William Dozier (then Vice President of Screen Gems Operations, he would later go onto gain fame as the producer of TV's Batman) and Harry Ackerman (the company's Vice President of Production). It was at a lunch in 1963 that the two of them developed the idea of a young, beautiful witch who is married to an ordinary man. Mr. Dozier first approached writer George Axelrod (perhaps most famous for the play The Seven Year Itch) about writing the pilot.

Unfortunately at the time Mr. Axelrod had an agreement with United Artists to write, produce and maybe even direct movies for the studio. As a result George Axelrod was unable to write the pilot. Mr. Dozier then approached Charles Lederer, who had written the films His Girl Friday (1940), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), about writing the pilot. Unfortunately at the time Mr. Lederer was already committed to writing the screenplay for Mutiny on the Bounty for MGM. Harry Ackerman and William Dozier then turned to Sol Saks to write the pilot.  Mr. Saks had considerable experience as a writer, having written for such radio shows as Duffy's Tavern, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Baby Snooks Show, as well as such television shows as My Favourite Husband, I Married Joan, and Mr. Adams and Eve (which he also developed). In writing the pilot Mr. Saks was inspired by both the 1942 film I Married a Witch and the 1958 film Bell, Book, and Candle.

Although it now seems impossible to conceive of anyone playing Samantha Stevens (called "Cassandra" in the original pilot script) but Elizabeth Montgomery, she was not the only actress considered for the role. At the time Tammy Grimes was under contract to do a television series for Screen Gems, as well as feature films. Miss Grimes was not particularly happy with Sol Saks' script and requested revisions. Sol Saks then went ahead and rewrote the script.

As to Elizabeth Montgomery (actor Robert Montgomery's daughter and already a veteran of television and film) and her husband, writer, director and producer William Asher (who had directed many episodes of I Love Lucy), they were developing their own series that was in many respects similar to Bewitched. The Fun Couple, based on John Haase's novel of the same name, centred on the richest woman in the world who was married to an ordinary car mechanic. William Asher took The Fun Couple to Wiliam Dozier. William Dozier liked the idea behind The Fun Couple, but saw its similarity to Bewitched and told Mr. Asher that he should talk to Harry Ackerman. As it turned out, both Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher loved the premise of Bewitched, preferring it to The Fun Couple. Naturally they expressed interest in dong Bewitched.

In the meantime Noel Coward asked Tammy Grimes to star in High Spirits (a musical version of his play Blithe Spirit) on Broadway. Ultimately Tammy Grimes chose to do High Spirits on Broadway. Elizabeth Montgomery was then cast as Samantha on Bewitched.

As to the role of Darrin Stephens, in the end three actors were considered for the role. Curiously, all three of them were named Richard. During the period that Tammy Grimes was being considered, a young actor named Dick Sargent was the top choice to play Darrin. Mr. Sargent had made many guest appearances on TV shows and had been the star of the short lived sitcom One Happy Family.  He would eventually go onto take a role in the short lived service comedy Broadside (it starred Kathleen Nolan, formerly of The Real McCoys, and centred on a group of WAVES during WWII). After Elizabeth Montgomery was cast as Samantha, Richard Crenna was considered for the role. He had been part of the cast of Our Miss Brooks and had just finished his run as one of the stars of The Real McCoys. As it turned out, however, Richard Crenna was not eager to do another regular series very soon. It was then that Dick York was considered.

Dick York already had an impressive résumé. He had appeared on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy and Bus Stop. He had appeared in such films as My Sister Eileen (1955) and Inherit the Wind (1960). It was while he was making They Came to Cordura (1959) that he received a disabling back injury that would ultimately affect his career. He also had an impressive list of television credits, including appearances on The United States Steel Hour, Studio One, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Thriller. He had been a regular on the short lived series Going My Way.  After an audition with Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York was cast in the role of Darrin.

It was Elizabeth Montgomery who asked legendary actress Agnes Moorehad to play the pivotal role of Endora, Samanth'a mother and Darrin's mother in law. Miss Moorehead had been one of Orson Welle's Mercury Players and was a veteran of stage, screen, and radio. She had appeared in such films as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Show Boat. On radio she was the voice of Margo Lane on The Shadow. Agnes Moorehead was initially hesitant to take the role, but eventually agreed.

While Sol Saks wrote the pilot for Bewitched and created its central characters (Samantha, Darrin, Ednora, Larry Tate, and so on), he wrote no more episodes of the show. It would be left to others to develop Bewitched as we know it. There can be no doubt that much of the credit goes to the star of the show, Elizabeth Montgomery, and her husband, William Asher. Both had considerable input into the show. Indeed, William Asher not only directed a lion's share of the episodes, but at various times served as a creative consultant and producer on Bewitched as well.

Another important figure in shaping Bewitched into the show we now know was Danny Arnold (who would go onto create Barney Miller), who served as the show's producer during its first season and as a script consultant in its first two seasons. He also wrote many of its episodes. It was Danny Arnold who shaped Bewitched as essentially a romantic comedy. Indeed, while he was the show's script consultant the magic on the show would be kept to a minimum. Bernard Slade (who would go onto create The Partridge Family) served a script consultant in the show's second season and also wrote many episodes. Over the years various writers would contribute the many relatives of Samantha that the show's fans have come to know and love: her look-alike cousin Serena, her elderly Aunt Clara, her practical joking Uncle Arthur, and witch doctor Dr. Bombay. While Sol Saks is quite rightfully credited as the creator of Bewitched, the show was very much a collaborative effort (as most TV programmes are) and much of what we identify with the show was developed by others.

Bewitched debuted on 17 September 1964 on ABC. It opened to largely positive reviews. In his review in TV Guide Cleveland Amory gave the pilot a good notice. He wrote in his review, "Between you and me and Halloween we are Bewitched by Bewitched." Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote of the show, "Bewitched promises to be a bright niche of poplar TV." Bob Thomas of the Associated Press also gave Bewitched good marks. He wrote, "The town also likes a hit, and it seems certain that Miss Montgomery's television vehicle, Bewitched, is a runaway success of the new season." Associated Press writer Cynthia Lowry seems to have been one of the very few critics who was not enchanted by Bewitched. In her review she wrote, "The result on display for the first time on Thursday night was disappointing, for the original idea was enchanting."

Not only was Bewitched well received by critics, but it was also a smash hit with audiences. In its very first season it was the #2 show for the year in the Nielsen ratings. Bewitched would continue to do fairly well for most of the eight years it was on the air.  It remained in the top ten for its second and third seasons before dropping to #11 for its fourth season. Over all it remained in the top 30 for its first six seasons, not dropping out until its seventh and penultimate season.

Despite the success of Bewitched, the show would see a good number of changes in its cast over the years.  In fact, the second season would see two major additions to the cast of the show. The first was the introduction of Paul Lynde as Samantha's Uncle Arthur (he was Endora's younger brother). The second was the introduction of Sam and Darrin's daughter Tabitha. At the beginning of the second season Samantha learned she was pregnant and at mid-season she gave birth Tabitha (whose name was initially spelled "Tabatha" in the credits). ). In her first appearance Tabitha was played by Cynthia Black. For several episodes afterwards Tabitha was then played by twins Julie and Tamar Young. It was at the beginning of the third season that fraternal twins Diane and Erin Murphy assumed the role. It was during the fourth season that Erin Murphy took over the role of Tabitha entirely. As Erin and Diane Muprhy had grown older they had also come to look less alike. Since Erin Muprhy more resembled Elizabeth Montgomery, she took over the part of Tabitha.

Another new character was added to the show in its second season, although it was done so without adding another actor to the cast. Serena was Samantha's look-alike cousin and was played by Elizabeth Montgomery. She would continue to appear as a recurring character on the show for the rest of its run.

The third season would see yet more cast changes. The role of Larry Tate's wife Louise was originally played by actress Irene Vernon, who left the series at the end of the second season. According to Irene Vernon, she was fired due to her close friendship with former producer Danny Arnold, with whom Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher did not get along.  At the start of the third season the role of Louise Tate was then assumed by Kasey Rogers. Kasey Rogers already had an impressive list of credits. Under her original stage name of Laura Elliott she had played the cheating wife of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951).  She played Louise Tate until the show's end of the run.

Another cast change during the third season would come about to an untimely death. Veteran actress Alice Pearce had appeared in such films as On the Town (1949) and The Belle of New York (1952) before assuming the role of nosey neighbour Gladys Kravitz.  Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer even as Bewitched went into production. She was able to keep her illness secret from the cast and crew. She died on 3 March 1966 of ovarian cancer. Sandra Gould assumed the role of Gladys Kravitz at the start of the third season and remained with the show for the rest of its run.

The third season would also see the introduction of a recurring character who would prove important to the show.  Appearing late in the third season, the character of Dr. Bombay (played by Bernard Fox), the witch doctor, would prove popular and would appear for the remainder of the show's run.

The fourth season would see another cast change due to a death, and this time it would be one of the show's most popular characters. Aside from her mother Endora and her father Maurice, Samantha's lovable Aunt Clara was among the first of her relatives to appear on the show. Played by veteran actress Marion Lorne, she was a recurring character on the show's first four seasons. Marion Lorne died at the age of 84 of a heart attack on 9 May 1968.  Aunt Clara appeared one last time on the show, on the 18 April 1968 "Samantha's Secret Saucer", just aired about two weeks before Miss Lorne's death.

Of course, by far the biggest cast change on Bewitched occurred when Dick York left the show at the end of the 5th season and Dick Sargent replaced him as Darrin in the 6th season. As mentioned earlier, Dick York had injured his back on the set of the film They Came to Cordura (1959). Over the years the condition of his spine degenerated and he eventually developed an addiction to pain killers. This probably was not helped by Bewitched's shooting schedule, which often required the cast to work 12 to 14 hour days. Dick York began missing episodes of Bewitched starting with the third season, during which he missed two. During the fourth season he missed a total of four episodes. By the fifth season his condition had worsened to the point that he missed a whole eight episodes. It was during the shooting of the episode "Daddy Does His Thing" that Dick York collapsed on the set and was rushed to hospital. It was when William Asher visited Dick York in hospital that Mr. York decided he could not go on with the show.

Dick York's departure from Bewitched left the show's production staff in a precarious position. Bewitched was still getting good ratings. It had ranked #11 for the year in its fourth season and would rank #12 in its fifth season. Given its ratings there was quite naturally a desire to continue the show. The problem was that Bewitched was essentially a romantic comedy centred around the marriage of Samantha and Darrin. For that reason the producers could not simply kill Darrin off. And even if divorce had been a more acceptable topic on American television in 1969, they could not have Samantha and Darrin divorce after their love story had unfolded on American airwaves for several years. The producers then decided to simply recast the role of Darrin. It was then with the 6th season that Dick Sargent took over the role of Darrin. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Sargent had been considered for the role when Tammy Grimes was being considered for the role of Samantha on the show. Curiously it was never explained on the show why or how Darrin's appearance and voice had changed. There was no episode in which Endora or another witch cast a spell and suddenly Dick York's Darrin became Dick Sargent's Darrin.

It was also in the 6th season that Alice Ghostley joined the cast as the Stephens' neurotic, magically bungling housekeeper Esmerelda. Alice Ghostley was a television veteran who had not only made several guest appearances on shows, but had also been a regular on both The Jackie Gleason Show and Captain Nice. Another addition to the cast in the sixth season was the Stephens' son Adam. It was in the fifth season that Samantha learned she was pregnant and in the sixth season that she gave birth to Adam. Adam, like their daughter Tabitha before him, would not be mortal. It was revealed in the seventh season that Adam was a warlock. Adam was played by twins David and Greg Lawrence.

Bewitched would end its original network run on 25 March 1972. While the show was phenomenally successful in its early years, its ratings would decline over time. The #2 show in the Nielsens for the year in its first season, it dropped to #7 in its second season. It remained in the top ten until its fifth season, when it dropped to #11 for the year. The reason for the drop in Bewitched's ratings seems most likely to have been due to a slight shift in timeslot. For its fifth season ABC moved Bewitched from 9:00 PM EST Thursday to 8:30 PM EST Thursday. This put it in direct competition with NBC's new hit police drama Ironside. Despite the more competitive time slot, Bewitched would only slip to #12 for the year in the following season.

Unfortunately, Bewitched would take a steep dive in the ratings in its sixth season. The show dropped from the 12th ranked show for the year the previous season to the 24th rated show for the year that season. The general consensus among television historians and critics is that this drop in the ratings was largely due to Dick York's departure from the show and the role of Darrin being re-cast with Dick Sargent in the part. As mentioned earlier, the change was never explained on the show.  It seems likely this confused many viewers, who may have wondered why Darrin had suddenly changed in both appearance and voice. And while viewers probably had nothing against Dick Sargent (personally I always thought he was a wonderful actor), there were probably many of them who simply could not accept anyone else but Dick York as Darrin after he had been in the role for five seasons.  Regardless, in its 7th season Bewitched dropped out of the top 25 for the year entirely.

Of course, here it must be pointed out the poor handling of the switch from Dick York as Darrin to Dick Sargent in the role was probably not the only reason Bewitched declined in the ratings. Many Bewitched fans feel the show declined in quality over the years. A common complaint from fans is that in later years (particularly after Dick Sargent had taken over the role of Darrin) plots from previous episodes were recycled, sometimes even scene for scene. In some instances complete dialogue was even repeated. Even with Bewitched not in reruns yet, it seems quite possible that many viewers recognised that scripts were being reused. It also seems quite possible that many of these viewers may have abandoned the show because of it.

For the show's eighth season ABC moved Bewitched from Thursday nights, where it had spent its entire run, to a new, 8:00 PM EST slot on Wednesday. Unfortunately, this placed Bewitched in direct competition with two highly rated shows, The Carol Burnett Show on CBS (which would rank #23rd for the season) and Adam-12 on NBC (which ranked #8 for the season).  Already declining in the ratings the past two seasons, Bewitched dropped in the ratings even further. Bewitched was not even allowed to finish out the season, going off the air in the spring of 1972.

Here it must be pointed out that had Bewitched not fallen the ratings it still seems unlikely that the show would have continued beyond its eighth season. By the show's final season Elizabeth Montgomery was eager to go onto other projects. Of course, if Elizabeth Montgomery had left Bewitched, then the show would have effectively been over.

Bewitched would go onto one of what could be one of the most successful syndication runs of all time. It would also see crossovers, a spinoff, and even several remakes. In fact, the first crossover occurred while the show was still on the air. During the 1965-1966 Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York provided voices for The Flintstones episode, "Samantha", in which Samantha and Darrin Stephens (well, their Stone Age equivalents, anyway) moved next door to the Flintstones.

Bewitched would also see an animated spinoff air on The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie during the 1972-1973 season. The animated film Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family featured Tabitha and Adam as teenagers spending the summer with their Aunt Georgia, who belongs to a circus. None of the actors from the original series reprised their roles.

 Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family would not be the only spinoff from and sequel to Bewitched. On 24 April 1976 ABC aired a pilot for a series that used the spelling Tabatha. The pilot featured Liberty Williams (best known for her voice work in Saturday morning cartoons) as Tabatha and Bruce Kimmel as Adam. Strangely enough, both were portrayed as adults, which was impossible given Bewitched's continuity (Tabitha was born in 1966 and Adam in 1969). The pilot did preserve the continuity of making Tabatha a witch and Adam a warlock.  No explanation was given for how Tabatha and Adam had aged so quickly. ABC rejected this particular pilot and went forward with new pilot, this time with the spelling Tabitha that was used for the majority of Bewitched's run.

In the new pilot the role of Tabitha Stephens was played by Lisa Hartman and the role of Adam Stephens was played by David Akrum. This pilot, like the series that followed it, also ignored the continuity of the original series by making both Tabitha and Adam adults.  It further ignored the continuity of the original series by making Adam a mortal and making Adam the older sibling.  ABC bought this series and it debuted on 10 September 1977.

Given the level of discontinuity with Bewitched, it is perhaps surprising that characters from the original show actually appeared on Tabitha. Bernard Fox guest starred as Dr. Bombay in the episodes "Tabitha's Weighty Problem" and "Halloween Party". George Tobias and Sandra Gould reprised their roles as Abner and Gladys Kravitz in the episode "Arrival of Nancy". Dick Wilson, who appeared frequently on Bewitched as a drunk, also guest starred in two episodes. Elizabeth Montgomery was asked to make an appearance as Samantha, but she declined to do so. She later noted that she received a good deal of mail from fans who were outraged at Tabitha's discontinuities with Bewitched.

Tabitha would ultimately last only about a season. Ratings for the show were good at first, but swiftly dropped. The show was also moved from its Saturday night time slot to Friday night time slot in January 1977, and scheduled erratically throughout its run. Between alienating fans of Bewitched with its lack of continuity with the original series and erratic scheduling on the part of ABC, it would seem Tabitha was doomed from the start.

Bewitched would cross over with another television show many years after it had left the air. In 1999 and 2000 Bernard Fox guest starred as Dr. Bombay on two episodes of the supernatural soap opera Passions. The Naughts would also see Bewitched being remade in several countries around the world. In 2002  Meri Biwi Wonderful aired in India. In 2004 the Tokyo Broadcasting System aired Okusama wa majo, a Japanese remake of the show. In 2007 Telefé in Argentina broadcast their own version of Bewitched, entitled Hechizada (they even adapted scripts from the original show to a modern day, Argentinean setting).  In 2008 the BBC made a pilot for a British version of Bewitched, but it never became a series. In 2009 TV3 in Russia aired their own remake of Bewitched, Moya lyobimaya vyedʲma, with several episodes based on those of the original show.

The year 2005 saw the release of Bewitched, a film inspired by the television show. The film is not an adaptation of the TV show, but instead centres on a famous actor (Will Ferrell) who is cast in the role of Darrin in a remake of Bewitched opposite an unknown actress (Nicole Kidman) as Samantha who turns out to be an actual witch. The film received largely bad reviews and did poorly at the box office.

Despite its success, I have always thought that in some ways Bewitched has never quite gotten the respect it deserves. Because of its premise, many dismiss it as a bit of fantastic fluff, much like some of the other imaginative comedies of the Sixties. In reality, however, Bewitched was actually a very sophisticated show.  It was very well written and its cast (one of the best in Sixties television) consistently gave good performances. At its heart Bewitched was a romantic comedy that centred on the travails of a married couple, albeit an unusual one. At the same time, however, Bewitched was capable of addressing serious issues that might have been off limits if not for not for its fantastic premise. Bewitched tackled such issues as bigotry, capitalism, and feminism. Of course, it can also be pointed out that its premise essentially centred on a "mixed" marriage. It is perhaps for these reasons that Bewitched is still being rerun today, nearly fifty years after its debut. A sophisticated romantic comedy that at times addressed the issues of the day, Bewitched is essentially timeless. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Late Great Theodore J. Flicker

Theodore J. Flicker, who wrote and directed the classic comedy The President's Analyst (1967) and created the TV show Barney Miller with Danny Arnold, died in his sleep on 12 September 2014 at the age of 84.

Theodore J. Flicker was born on 6 June 1930 in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. He became interested in the theatre as a child when he played  Jiminy Cricket in a children's adaptation of Pinocchio. He attended Admiral Farragut Academy in Tom's River, New Jersey. He served in the United States Army and then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Among his classmates were Joan Collins and Larry Hagman.

In 1954 he joined Chicago's Compass Theatre, of which Mike Nichols and Elaine May were a part. Theodore J. Flicker would eventually establish a Compass Theatre in St. Louis, where it was based out of the Crystal Palace. It was in 1959 that Mr. Flicker wrote and directed The Nervous Set on Broadway, with lyrics provided by  Fran Landesman and music provided by Tommy Wolf. The Nervous Set was the world's first (and most likely only) "beat musical" and produced a hit song in the form of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", later covered by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen MacRae, and Bette Midler.

The Sixties would arguably be the height of Theodore J. Flicker's career. He directed the film The Troublemaker (1964) and co-wrote its screenplay with Buck Henry. Starring Tom Aldredge and Joan Darling, the film did not do particularly well at the box office, but has since become well regarded. It was in 1967 that his most famous film was released, the satirical comedy The President's Analyst. The President's Analyst starred James Coburn as the psychiatrist of the title and lampooned everything from the American middle class to gun ownership to the FBI and the CIA. The film received sterling reviews from critics and Theodore J. Flicker was nominated for the Writers Guild of America's Best Written American Original Screenplay award for its screenplay. Unfortunately, The President's Analyst did not fare well at the box office. According to Mr. Flicker the wildly anti-authoritarian film also angered Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover and others in the government. According to Theodore J. Flicker he found himself blacklisted in Hollywood because of this. He directed only one more feature film in the Sixties, Up in the Cellar from 1970. Prior to The President's Analyst Mr. Flicker had co-written the Elvis Presley movie Spinout (1966) with George Kirgo.

In the Sixties Theodore J. Flicker also directed a good number of episodes of television shows, including such series as Many Happy Returns, The Bill Dana Show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Rogues, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Dream of Jeannie. As an actor he appeared in his own film The Troublemaker as well as the TV production The Season of Youth and the TV show The Rogues.

In the Seventies Theodore J. Flicker co-created the TV show Barney Miller. The show centred on Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden), who was in charge of the Detectives' Squad of  the fictional 12th Precinct in Greenwich Village in New York City. Mr. Flicker also wrote episodes of the TV shows Nichols, Night Gallery, Banyon, Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, and Banacek, as well as the TV movies Just a Little Inconvenience (1977) and Last of the Good Guys (1978). He continued to direct as well, directing the TV movies Playmates (1972), Guess Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1973), Ann in Blue (1974), Just a Little Inconvenience (1977), Last of the Good Guys (1978), and Where the Ladies Go (1980). He also directed episodes of the TV shows Banyon and Night Gallery, as well as the pilot for Barney Miller. He wrote and directed the fantasy family film Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1978). As an actor he appeared in the Night Gallery episode "Hell's Bells" and the film The Christian Licorice Store (1971).

In the Eighties Theodore J. Flicker directed the movie Soggy Bottom U.S.A. (1981) and an episode of The Twilight Zone. In his later years Mr. Flicker took up sculpting. His home included an extensive sculpture garden featuring his work as well as that of Allan Houser, Paul Moore, Tony Price, and others. Mr. Flicker also wrote extensively about expressionism. He also wrote the novel The Good American, one of the very first books to be marketed only online.

If the only thing Theodore J. Flicker had done in his life was to write and direct The President's Analyst he would have accomplished more than many filmmakers. In my humble opinion The President's Analyst is one of the greatest films of the Sixties. Wildly funny, the film lampooned nearly every aspect of American culture in the Sixties, sparing almost nothing and no one (only the spies, hippies, the hero of the title are portrayed sympathetically). What is more, if anything the film is even more relevant in this day and age of the internet and social media than it was in 1967.

Fortunately, Mr. Flicker did more than direct The President's Analyst. He co-created Barney Miller with Danny Arnold. While Mr. Flicker worked no further on the show than its pilot episode, his vision continued to inform the show for the rest of its run. While Mr. Flicker's other works might not be as well known as The Preisdent's Analyst or Barney Miller, many of them are as classic in their own way. The Troublemaker foresaw The President's Analyst insofar as it was a riotous comedy that showed little mercy in the subjects it lampooned. Although based on the book by Mordecai Richler, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang bears the hallmarks of Theodore J. Flicker Although the film has its flaws (not the least of which are the songs), it still functions quite well as a children's movie with an untamed sense of humour. It must also be pointed out that Mr. Flicker was very good when it came to directing television, including some of the best episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Running through much of Theodore J. Flicker's work was a strong anti-authoritarian streak. It is most strongly seen in The President's Analyst, but it is also present in The Troublemaker and even to a small degree Barney Miller. And it does seem possible that because of this Mr. Flicker did not get much work in Hollywood--he could be right about The President's Analyst hurting his career. This is sad, as Theodore J. Flicker was a singular talent when it came to creating iconoclastic comedy and biting satire. It seems quite possible that he could have made more films like The Troublemaker and The President's Analyst. As it is, with the few films he made, Mr. Flicker had a much better career than some directors who have made many more movies.