by Marc Bilgrey
The list that follows features some situation comedies from the 1960s that were only on the air briefly, yet left lasting impressions. These shows were well written and acted, but failed to find audiences during their original runs. Why were they cancelled? In the 1960s, there were only three TV networks, CBS, NBC and ABC. That may seem hard to believe in a world where there are now hundreds of channels and thousands of internet shows, but before cable, satellite, and the web, the entertainment choices on TV were very slim. If a program did not appeal to a wide segment of the population, as decided by a couple of rating services, it was cancelled.
What factors made a show “unpopular”? Being intelligent was one of them. That’s not to say there were no smart shows on TV, they’ve always been a few. But not too many at any given time. TV, after all is a popular medium, and in the 60s, there were a limited number of channels and time slots.
My World and Welcome to It. This excellent show, which was based on the writings and cartoons of James Thurber, only lasted a brief time. Created by Mel Shavelson, (who wrote for Bob Hope and many feature films) with scripts by excellent writers including, Danny Arnold (who later went on to create the wonderful police sit-com, Barney Miller). William Windom starred as a Thurbereque writer and cartoonist, who worked for a New Yorker-like magazine. He often broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the viewer, a radical idea in 1960’s TV. His wife was played by Joan Hotchkiss, his daughter, by Lisa Gerritsen. Comedian Henry Morgan was in it too. There was even animation based on Thurber’s cartoons. Despite winning Emmys and critical acclaim, this great show was pulled.
He and She, was another very sophisticated show. Oddly enough, this one was also about a cartoonist. Created by Leonard Stern, co-creator of Get Smart, the writers were (among others) Chris Hayward and Allan Burns, who created The Munsters. He and She starred Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, as a married couple, (who were also married in real life). In the supporting cast were Jack Cassidy and Kenneth Mars., both wonderful performers. Benjamin plays a cartoonist who draws a superhero comic strip called Jetman. This was a funny, witty, character-based show.
Good Morning, World. Created by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, writers who contributed great scripts to The Dick Van Dyke Show, and created, That Girl. Good Morning, World, was about two morning disc jockeys, at work and on their off time. It starred Ronnie Schell, Jobie Baker and Julie Parrish. In the supporting cast, were the very funny Billy De Wolf and Goldie Hawn. Carl Reiner was the producer. This show had a gentle quality to it, especially the scenes with Baker and Parrish, dealing with the day to day problems of married life.
Captain Nice. Okay, this show was not intelligent, in fact, it was extremely silly. But it was also very funny. It was created by Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart. Captain Nice is a superhero parody. The premise is, a mild-mannered (is there any other secret identity personality?) police chemist who gets super powers, then bumbles his way into catching crooks. This may sound a bit tame now, when there are so many superhero TV shows and movies, but at the time, it was quite ground breaking. Captain Nice starred William Daniels (later the voice of the car on Knight Rider and Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere.) Other cast members included, the very funny Alice Ghostley (supposedly, Paul Lynde was very influenced by her style), and Ann Prentiss. The memorable theme song is written by Vic Mizzy, who also wrote The Addams Family music.
It’s About Time. This show will never be mistaken for a Noel Coward play. To say it was broad would be an understatement. Created by Sherwood Schwartz, the man responsible for Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, It’s About Time starred the legendary Imogene Coca (Your Show of Shows) and the equally hysterical, Joe E. Ross, (Sergeant Bilko and Car 54) as primitive cave people. The premise: astronauts mistakenly go back in time and are stranded in the prehistoric era. Later in the series, the cave dwellers are brought to the modern world. This slapstick farce is not for every taste, but worth a look. It also has a great theme song.
All of these shows can be seen on YouTube, except for Good Morning, World, which is being run on Antenna TV, a cable station. Just because a show wasn’t successful commercially, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t successful creatively. Happy viewing and try not to spill food on the remote.