Situation Comedy

With the passing of Ed Asner earlier this week I began to realize how blessed I was to be born in the early sixties.  Situation Comedies had been around for a while.  The idea of a show that settled around a group of regular characters getting into outlandish situations went back to the days of Radio where The Goldbergs, My Favorite Husband, Amos and Andy, Fibber Maggie and Molly and Our Miss Brooks ran supreme on their respective radio stations.  Film and Vaudeville stars such as Burns and Allen and Jack Benny would also have on going series on radio. These shows were half story and half variety show as a singer would be on hand to perform as well.

The Goldbergs would be the first of the radio shows to jump to the new medium of television.  The Goldbergs had been on the air since 1929 and President Roosevelt was quoted as saying that he didn’t get America through the Depression, The Goldbergs did.  The show went off the radio in 1946 and ran for awhile as a Broadway play.  In 1949 the show was brought to television and would air until 1956 on different networks.  In 1952 the show was dropped by CBS and I Love Lucy took it’s nine o’clock time slot on Monday nights.  Lucy would remain in that spot in various incarnation until 1974.

The Goldbergs, though a very important show in its time, was quickly forgotten as the years rolled by.  Other radio shows would cross over including Our Miss Brooks, Burns and Allen and Jack Benny to name a few.  But these were the ones that would be remembered.

In my early childhood, as I have stated elsewhere, my mother would do her chores while I watched the reruns of I love Lucy and Jack Benny from nine to ten in the morning.  I loved those shows and Lucille Ball, still the reigning queen of TV comedy, would become a part of who I am.

But there were other shows too.  Though I can’t remember the original runs because I was too young, I was brought up on the reruns of The Patty Duke Show, Hazel, Dennis the Menace, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Gidget.  I think my first memory of a new situation comedy being aired on TV was the premiere of The Flying Nun in 1967.  The Flying Nun was the story of Sister Bertrille, she was light weight, and her habit was in the form of wings when the wind was just right, she would become air born and the fun began.  Sally Field starred in that show.  She had finished Gidget and moved right into The Flying Nun.  She learned her craft on television and, of course, gained film star status with Norma Rae and Steel Magnolias. We liked her, we really liked her.

There were shows too that I grew into.  They were just always on.  Gilligan’s Island (1964), Bewitched (1964). The Munsters (1964) The Addams Family (1964), Petticoat Junction (1963) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1962) are some of these shows.  As you can see 1964 was a banner year for television comedy.  Some of these shows would run into the 1970s and only go off as television itself set a new course.

There are shows that I dearly love that began after I entered grade school that had a huge impact on me.  That Girl (1966), The Mothers In-Law (1967) The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969), Nanny and the Professor (1970), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968) and the two shows that I feel helped define my generation The Brady Bunch (1969) and The Partridge Family (1970)

It was in the early 70s that TV began to get dark.  In many ways it began with The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970).  Though this show was light comedy it dealt in a more realistic way with life than most of its predecessors.  In 1971 Norman Lear changed television comedy forever with All In The Family.  In 1972 things got darker with MASH.  To be honest, and knowing people will violently disagree with me, I believe these two shows ended good situation comedy.  But that’s not what this blog is about.

I think I learned a lot from watching the comedies that came on in the 1950s thru the early 70s.  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father showed that a good relationship between a father and his son could really happen.  This show began in the middle of the times when kids were all saying to “not trust anyone over thirty.”  This show told us that you could.

Some of the shows were just plain silly fun but they had a light message underneath.  Goodness and kindness will always win. This rule held true whether you were on a deserted island or you were married to a witch.

In The Munsters, Herman, the Frankenstein character says to his son Eddie, “The lesson I want you to learn is that it doesn’t matter what you look like.  You could be tall or short, or fat or thin or, ugly, or handsome, like your father.  Or you could be black, yellow or white, it doesn’t matter.  But what does matter is the size of your heart and the strength of your character.”

In the first episode of The Flying Nun Sister Bertrille gives us a little taste of the how God feels about people.  She quotes Saint Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”  These are some of the lessons I learned from situation comedies.

There were others too.  How to get along in tough situations (Gilligan’s Island), That every person has value and has something to give that they don’t even know about (Hazel) That single parents can make it on their own with a little help from family and friends (The Partridge Family, Nanny and the Professor, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), That brothers and sisters can get along (The Brady Bunch) That life can be an adventure and that you have the right to dream and to chase those dreams (That Girl).

Some shows were just plain fun like Gidget and The Mothers In-Law.  The Mother’s In-Law had a lot going for it when it premiered in 1967.  It was produced by Desi Arnaz and he had all the power of The Desilu studios behind him.  Writers that wrote for Lucille Ball were brought on board and the shows stars Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard were respected names in their professions.  Eve Arden had portrayed Connie Brooks on radio and TV in Our Miss Brooks.  Kaye Ballard made a name for herself in comic roles on Broadway and she brought Lucy Van Pelt to life on a record album along with Orson Bean as Charlie Brown.  She played one of the ugly stepsisters in the original Rodgers and Hammerstein TV production of Cinderella starring Julie Andrews. (The other stepsister was played by Alice Ghostly who would appear regularly on Bewitched and Designing Women) The shows premise was that two neighbors who just tolerated each other had grown children who fall in love and elope.  This entwines the two families in a love hate relationship.  The antics that these two women get up to in the two-season run are on par with anything Lucy and Ethel or Laverne Shirley ever did.  The show should have run longer.  The cast expected it to and showed up to begin filming the third season.  They were told the show had been cancelled due to a network change in what comedies should look like.

In other words, they were going darker.  Realism would take the place of farce and physical comedy.  The writers had less work to do as did the scenic designers and effects workers.  Lucy would never get covered in chocolate or bleached again.  Hazel wouldn’t stop up a chimney with a football by accident and Gilligan wouldn’t fall into the lagoon or be wrapped on the head by the skipper.  There would be no Hillbillies in Beverly Hills and Samantha would twitch her nose no longer and her husband Darrin would never be threatened by his mother-in-law.  People, or so we have been taught to believe, had grown out of such things.  Instead they wanted pot shots taken at the government (All In The Family) They wanted shows that centered on sex (Love American Style) They wanted shows where the humor came out mostly in people being cruel to each other (MASH)

The Partridge Family became a hit in 1970 and ran for four season and 96 episodes.  The story of a mother with five children who perform together as a band was an immediate sensation.  There was at least one song a week and some of these made it into the Billboard top 100.  I Think I Love You, the shows first hit made it to number one in 1970. The Partridge Family produced 8 studio albums including the Christmas album and 5 compilation albums. Though no longer played on the radio the music is still available on CD or Spotify and the show still runs on various TV streaming services.  The show still has a lot of fans who gather in strength on Facebook.

The Partridge Family shaped my taste in music.  I became much more interested in pop music than conventional rock and roll.  My favorites today remain The Partridge Family, The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and another TV show band The Monkees

Shirley Jones who played Shirley Partridge. The mother on the show got her start quite by accident.  She was on her way to becoming a veterinarian.  She was in NYC and found out that Rodgers and Hammerstein were holding open auditions for singers.  She went and sang for I believe it was Richard Rodgers.  He was so impressed he took her to another theater where Oscar Hammerstein was working.  In the first theater she sang with a pianist, in the second she had full orchestra to accompany her.  Needless to say she was hired.  I believe she started in the chorus of one the R and H shows but eventually would play the lead for them in both the film versions OKLAHOMA and Carousel.  She would go on to play the lead in The Music Man on film and then move on to dramatic roles and comedy roles on film.  She was suited to play the singing mother of five and it gave her a chance to stay home and raise her three sons.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Nanny and the Professor were short lived but remain two of my favorites.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was based on the 1942 film.  That movie was set in England in the 1800s.  The TV show was set-in present-day America on The New England coast.  The show revolves around a widow with two children and a housekeeper who settle in a house once owned by a sea captain.  They quickly come to realize that captain is haunting the house and the spirit, and the family must learn to live together and getting used to a supernatural prescience with all kinds of ghostly powers is quite the funny challenge.

Nanny and the Professor is what I like to call a mash up of Mary Poppins and Bewitched.  The show starred Juliet Mills as Nanny and she played the role to perfection.  “The beginning lines of the theme song are “Soft and sweet, wise and wonderful oooh our mystical magical nanny.” And that’s what she was.  Watching Nanny and the Professor was like wrapping a warm comforter around yourself and having a cup of tea.

I could go on and on.  I have stories about all my favorite shows. Betty-Jo Bradley was probably my first crush.  She was the youngest daughter on Petticoat Junction and a tom boy, I thought she was great.  I also loved the mother, Kate Bradley, played by Bea Bernadette.  She was a regular on television since the 1950s.  Playing George and Gracie Burns’ neighbor on their show and then playing Jethro’s mother on The Beverly Hillbillies.  And she voiced Betty Rubble in The Flintstones when that show premiered in 1960.  In 1968 Bea Bernadette passed away leaving a gap in the Petticoat Junction cast.  I felt that passing but was pleased when June Lockhart, Mrs. Robinson from Lost in Space came in to fill her shoes.  Not as mother to the girls, who were basically grown up, but as a resident doctor named Janet Craig.  Petticoat Junction would end in 1970 having run for seven years.

We call some foods, comfort foods, foods like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and pie with ice cream are foods we go to when we want to feel better about something.  There are comfort TV shows too, especially the shows I grew up with.  Lucy  always brings a smile to my face in all her incarnations.  Hazel is the adult friend you always wished you had when you were a kid.  You can laugh and C’mon Get Happy with The Partridge Family and you can learn to have faith in the things you cannot see in The Flying Nun.

A lot of these shows are gone now.  Some are still available to purchase on DVD and some are being shown on the cable channel Antenna TV.  Some have gone out of copyright so you can purchase them on eBay from independent manufacturers, These shows include The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Nanny and the Professor.  Some shows are only partially available.  Petticoat Junction has it’s own streaming channel and The Beverly Hillbillies only seem to allow the first few season to be available.  I know this all has to do with copyright law.  I hope one day they straighten that mess out and let all of these treasures out for the public to enjoy once again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s