Some thoughts on the realism and fantasy behind the sitcoms in this period.
The 1960’s were a time of change, and a time when the social and political upheaval of a new age came face to face with the final days of a much more traditional period in history. It was a period of growing individual freedoms that broke free of the social constraints of the previous age, and broke away from the previously accepted norms. These popular TV programs, all sitcom classics in their own right, were often innocent, but the turbulent feelings of that time still can be seen in the plots, the topics, the language and the music of these famous shows.
With the Dick Van Dyke show you had versatile actors who carried the skills exhibited by earlier sitcoms into the sixties. It was Carl Reiner who was able to write meaningful scripts that would be picked up by actors like Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
They had been matched perfectly; Dyke would apply his goofiness and Moore would capitalize on her crying scenes and comic ability behind a serious and sometimes naive look. The sitcom format was perfect for other couple situations that bordered on the world of fantasy and the unreal.
“I Dream of Genie” was a world between a mortal astronaut and his imprisoned female servant and admirer. Initially one did not think of whether the genie would marry her master but one can surmise that the evolution of the program towards sealing the romance is what would be a recipe for other sitcoms and comedy shows to come.
Another sitcom released during the same period, “My Favorite Martian,” would be based on the crash of a spaceship. An earthling would adopt its occupant, until the ship would be repaired.
Preceding comedy sketches such as that of the “Honeymooners,” on the Gleason Show showed singular slices of life and there were no elements of the fantastic or otherworldly.
The neighborhood realism established in the Gleason show would soon morph into some pretty unrealistic settings. Strangely in “I Dream of Genie”, censors allowed an unmarried woman to live in the house of a single man without barring the show, and it was both humorous and risqué at that time.
Whereas Sheldon’s sitcom was based on the film with Tony Randall, other sitcoms of the same period had different origins; a radio program inspired “Green Acres,” where Hooterville is supposed to be the fictional town for this comedy and that of Petticoat Junction.
In Green Acres, the comedy drew satiric elements from insane moments around the protagonist, Oliver Douglas played by Eddie Albert. He was matched well with a sometimes-temperamental Lisa Douglas, played by Eva Gabor.
Henning produced another rural based sitcom, “The Beverly Hillbillies” that was also based in the same town, or in the rural area between Hooterville and Pixley. Where Henning’s wife’s grandparents lived in Eldon Missouri, inspired the town’s location but it is also said that the comedic rural setting drew its inspiration from the Ozarks.
Mister Ed was a popular program that ran for 4 seasons from 1961 to 1965. It focused around an architect and a secretly talking horse. The horse’s name was Mr. Ed. and the famous theme song begins with those unforgettable lines “A horse is a horse, of course, of course…”, but of course, Mr. Ed is anything but a regular horse.
My Three Sons was a warm, funny sitcom about a widower raising his three sons – Mike, Robbie and Chip, along with the help of his grouchy father-in-law. The Douglas family eventually moves to California, where some of the men were eventually married.
A futuristic space colony family struggles to survive when a accidental stowaway throws their ship hopelessly off course.
This famous family of creepy-looking Munsters were actually a very sweet, but off-beat crew that actually had no idea that the world outside would look at them as freaks.
Here is one of the most beloved sitcoms of all-time. This show based on the town of Mayberry and it’s beloved Sheriff is a timeless classic. Besides Ron Howard as the young son of the sheriff, and Any Griffith himself, this show also spawned other popular TV characters including Deputy Barney Fife and US Marine Gomer Pyle.
Can a playful witch marry a mere mortal? In the 60’s it turns out that even this was a possibility, and so Samantha married Darrin Stephens and the two began their wonderful married life together. There is only one catch however, and Darrin makes Sam promise that she will not use her witchcraft powers for anything. The idea doesn’t go over well with Samantha’s mother, Endora, who hates Darrin and does all that she can to cause Samantha to use magic.
This popular comedy was based on a small ship and its crew and passengers that are shipwrecked and stranded on an unchartered desert island. This show featured the Skipper and Gilligan as the crew that tries unsuccessfully to find a way to get back to the mainland along with the Professor, Mary Ann, Ginger, and Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III.
Captured prisoner Colonel Hogan leads a loony bunch of POW’s caught behind German lines against the bumbling Germans that give Hogan and his crew plenty of opportunities to sabotage their war efforts. The German Colonel Klink is of course more concerned with having everything run smoothly on his watch and avoiding any trouble with his superiors, than he is on keeping a close watch on Hogan and the gang, and he gets tricked time and again by the wild antics of Hogan’s Heroes.
It’s been a long time and a heck of a journey, but I hope you enjoyed the trip…