Posts Tagged ‘“That Girl”’

Love Is On the Air

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

(Reposted from 2/13/13 MediaPost article by Karen Herman with permission)

In time for Valentine’s Day, the Archive of American Television opens its vault to find out what our interviewees had to say about some of TV’s classic relationships:

Writer Sam Denoff on “That Girl” Here were these two people who were in love, which made the show work. People remember more about Donald and Ann Marie than all the things that she got into, which is the secret of all the great shows. “All in the Family,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy” were all love stories….

I don’t think any episode mentioned, “Shall we do it?” It wasn’t if they did or didn’t — it wasn’t important.

There was a responsibility to each other that made for the comedy. “I want to do something, but will he or she be mad?” That’s why marriage works, because it’s a comedy.

Actress Jean Stapleton on “All in the Family”On the surface, Archie was that incredible, ignorant bigot — but Edith saw more than that.  Edith was in love with this man. We had some tender moments that were dramatized, perhaps more off-camera…The whole substance of their marriage is something that was probably very sweet.

Actress Tyne Daly on keeping it real with Mary Beth Lacey’s husband on “Cagney & Lacey”We weren’t beautiful, and we weren’t invested in being beautiful…. It was an idealized marriage, but it was a blue-collar marriage. They weren’t the folks on The Hill, they were the folks on the couch. And they conflicted nicely. They fought fair.

Producer Aaron Spelling on “Starsky and Hutch”We said many times, it was the first heterosexual [all-male] love affair on television. Paul Michael Glaser’s character loved hamburgers, all that jazz, and David Soul liked French food.  They disagreed about everything, but they were really terrific together. It was their relationship more than the cases.  It had lots of humor in it. It wasn’t just car chases.

Actress Isabel Sanford on the love between “The Jeffersons”Louise kept George in tow. That’s how it lasted that long. George really loved Louise. He was hotheaded, but he listened to her. Whether he thought he had the last word or not, she had the last word. That’s how that marriage lasted as long as it did.  Nobody would put up with George like Louise!

Actress Suzanne Pleshette on the mature love of “The Bob Newhart Show”– Bob and Emily Hartley were a unique couple, something that had never been on television. First, we were a married couple who loved each other. We did not denigrate each other. We were partners; we were equals. We were smart and both working.  There were no children to teach us lessons. Howard, our next-door neighbor, was our child, in effect.

We were obviously sexual. I’m very demonstrative, [and] Bob hates that [but] he was obliged to endure it, and that became something wonderful about our relationship.

Creator Phil Rosenthal on why “Everybody Loves Raymond,” including Debra — People say Debra’s so mean to him. But we always felt [that] she’s justified, she has every right to yell at him. She’s doing it all, and she doesn’t get a break.

When we analyze it, what does keep a couple together? I think what… keeps us with that other person more than anything, is not the physical; it’s the common sense of humor.  It’s that you laugh at what I say and I laugh at what you do and we both find the same things funny….

I feel like it’s never really mentioned, but Debra loves Ray because he’s fun…. Comedy’s conflict — but every once in a while, he makes her laugh. And you get it.

If you like it then you shouldn’t put a ring on it: THAT GIRL turns 45!

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Before Carrie Bradshaw, before Murphy Brown, even before Mary Richards, it was That Girl’s Ann Marie who first showed American television viewers that it was okay to pursue a career instead of a man.

Fondly known as a pioneer in the portrayal of television’s leading ladies, That Girl certainly earned its place in television’s history books. It was a ratings hit, lovely to work on (according to cast and crew), and left a blueprint for the Carrie Bradshaws of the world on how to be a fashion maven. But getting That Girl onto television was not an easy process, and the program’s backstory makes the final product all the more impressive. With a bit of a daring premise, a clash of the titles, stars who didn’t test well, and an agent character gone AWOL, the series experienced a few setbacks on the path to success. Throw in a hunt for Daddy and a dispute over the finale, the behind-the-scenes tales of That Girl could almost be sitcom fodder themselves.

Marlo Thomas, who portrayed That Girl’s Ann Marie, had her work cut out for her. In 1965, Thomas starred in a pilot for a show called Two’s Company, and though the pilot didn’t sell, it did grab the attention of ABC executive Edgar Scherick and sponsors Bristol-Myers and Clairol. Scherick saw star-power in Thomas, and Bristol-Myers and Clairol believed she could increase sales of their products with those trademark bangs. With sponsors and a star secured, all that the group needed was a show idea. Thomas had one, but it wasn’t well received.

She wanted to do a show based in-part on her own life as a single woman trying to make a career for herself as an actress. The character would not be a stay-at-home mother, a teacher, or somebody’s wife, but would be the somebody. Watch below to find out how a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique convinced Scherick that Thomas’ idea had merit:

With Scherick on board, the show began to take shape. Thomas wanted Sam Denoff and Bill Persky, writers for The Dick Van Dyke Show, to co-create the program. Denoff and Persky observed Thomas in a London production of “Barefoot in the Park” and were convinced of her acting talent, but were concerned about whether or not Thomas could be funny. It turns out they didn’t need to worry — Marlo, like her father, legendary entertainer Danny Thomas, had a knack for comedy.

The show was originally titled “Miss Independence” after the nickname Danny Thomas gave Marlo after she first moved into her own apartment and promptly called him to complain that her new abode was infested. The elder Thomas turned to his wife, Rose Marie, and reported, “Miss Independence has ants.” Denoff and Persky thought the title sounded too much like a musical a la 1776, and Denoff came up with the title of “That Girl.” His parents used to refer to his sister as “that girl,” as in “that girl is going to drive me crazy,” and he and Persky then crafted the show’s signature prologue featuring a zoom in on Marlo Thomas, ever “that girl” that captured everyone’s interest.

Thomas starred as Ann Marie, a young woman straight out of Brewster College. Against her parents’ wishes, she moved to Manhattan to follow her dream of becoming an actress. Ted Bessell played her boyfriend, Don Hollinger, though in the original, unaired pilot, Don was Donald Blue Sky, both Ann’s agent and boyfriend. Bessell didn’t test well in this role; audiences didn’t like the idea of Ann’s boyfriend profiting from her career. Persky and Denoff rewrote Don to be Ann’s boyfriend, a reporter for Newsview magazine, gave him a new surname, and cast a young George Carlin as her agent. When Carlin didn’t show up for episode six, actor Ronnie Schell was cast as Ann’s agent. Several other actors were replaced after the test pilot: Rosemary DeCamp took over the role of Ann’s mother, Helen, from Penny Santon, and Lew Parker became Ann’s father, Lou, in lieu of Harold Gould. Groucho Marx read for the role of Ann’s father, and although everyone agreed Marx was a comedic genius, they also agreed he wasn’t right for the part.

That Girl received a five-year contract, with Marlo Thomas serving as the show’s un-credited Executive Producer via her role as head of Daisy Productions, the company that backed the show. The sitcom was an immediate hit for ABC and maintained high ratings throughout its five seasons. As the contract’s deadline approached, ABC, Denoff and Persky wanted to renew, but Thomas did not. Feeling as though Ann wasn’t entirely representative of the modern woman (the audience was supposed to believe she “never saw Don’s ankles”), and adamant that Ann not marry, Thomas believed Ann had played out her time on primetime. ABC wanted the final episode to showcase the wedding of Don and Ann, but Thomas refused, believing that would send the message to viewers that the only happy ending for a woman was marriage. Don and Ann did get engaged in the fifth season, but in the series finale, rather than mishaps during a ceremony, antics ensue when the pair are trapped in an elevator on the way to a women’s liberation meeting.

Through all the bends in the road, That Girl emerged as a winner, not just in terms of ratings, but for presenting a main character that reflected the revolutionary era in which she lived. Television had featured single women before That Girl (on Our Miss Brooks, for example), but here’s what set Ann Marie apart: she was the first leading lady to not actively hunger for a husband. Yes, she was in a loving relationship, but she didn’t need or want to define herself in terms of the man in her life. Ann proved that the viewing audience would accept an unmarried, career-oriented woman, and though she may not have been the thoroughly modern woman Thomas wanted her to be, she was the closest to one that American television had ever seen. Before television’s viewers could care about Carrie decades later, they first needed to accept Ann.

And accept they did, for the 1960’s audience loved That Girl. Forty-five years later, multiple generations now do, too. Cheers to That Girl for navigating the prickly path to primetime and for showing viewers that you don’t need to be half of a married couple to be a whole woman.

- By Adrienne Faillace

TV Comedy Writing Legend Sam Denoff has Died

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Very sad news, the Archive of American Television has learned that TV Legend Sam Denoff, not only an Archive interviewee, but someone who passionately supported the Archive as an interviewer, passed away on July 8th at the age of 83.

Sam began his prolific career in radio at WNEW in New York and later moved to Los Angeles to work in television, starting with The Steve Allen Show. He worked on The Andy Williams Show before landing a job with partner Bill Persky on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he and Persky co-wrote such classic episodes as “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “That’s My Boy!” He and Persky then co-created and co-produced That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, as well as the short-lived series Good Morning World. Other series he created include The Funny Side, Big Eddie, On Our Own, Turnabout, and The Lucie Arnaz Show. Denoff also wrote for such specials as: The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (1967), The Bill Cosby Special (1968), Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Mary Tyler Moore (1969) and Hallmark Hall of Fame: “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Orson Welles (1972). He also wrote for The Annual American Comedy Awards and working as a consultant for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Along with being an Archive of American Television interviewee, Sam contributed his time as an Archive interviewer — he conducted historic interviews with TV Legends Sheldon Leonard, Art Linkletter, Jerry Lewis, Hal Kanter, and Charles Cappleman.

Here are some excerpts from his March 9, 2000 Archive interview:

On being hired to write for The Steve Allen Show in 1961

We [Denoff and Bill Persky] were going to be the last two hired on the writing staff — the two of us and another new writer called Buck Henry. Did they love our material? We found out they never read the material. What happened was there was a meeting and names were being thrown out. Our name came up and Bill Dana said, “Sam Denoff, I know Sam, he and I were pages together, he’s really funny. He’s good.” Steve said, “book him.” That was Steve Allen, we’re talking about generous, nurturing people. Steve Allen is one of those giants. He has started off the careers of so many people, performers and writers, Billy and me among them. But his attitude was if somebody said, hey, “I know this guy, he’s a good singer,” Steve said, “put him on the show. What could it hurt, if they’re no good, they’re no good.” So we got the job. It was a three-week contract… They liked what we were doing. I brought my family out, which was good, but it was bad because the show was canceled after fourteen shows. But, one thing leads to another, if you just go ahead and do your work. I think it’s important to say that our ambitions were not to be producers. We wanted to be, get a job as a writer and work as writers. And especially for variety shows, because we knew we had a good sense of satire and doing satirical sketches.

On writing the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show episode “That’s My Boy”

“That’s My Boy” was our first episode, and certainly it was exciting. It evolved to being a momentous moment in the show’s history. It was the opening show of the third season and the story was that Dick was obsessed with the idea that their son Richie was the baby of another couple whose wife was in the hospital at the same time giving birth. And all the evidence that he could dig up, it was very funny being this precise, almost an Inspector Clouseau character — he says, their name was Peters, ours Petrie, very close names, and you were in room 387, and she was in room 378…. At one point, he was even going to footprint the baby, when Laura caught him. Of course, he had to keep all of his suspicions to himself, which is a great comedy device. He didn’t want to upset his wife. Anyway, he finally calls the Peters family, and says, “my name is Petrie and you guys had a baby the same day as my wife, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and I think we have to deal with this fact that we may have the wrong babies.” He tells Laura and of course, she says, oh that’s ridiculous! He says, no, sweetheart, I’m sure…the doorbell rings and in walks Greg Morris and his wife, the black actor, Greg Morris, who became famous on Mission Impossible. When he walked in that door, the audience exploded and they didn’t stop laughing. I think Sheldon [Leonard] and Carl [Reiner] have said that’s the longest single laugh ever on that series. But the joke was not on the black couple, the joke was on Dick Van Dyke, the schmuck. As Dick Van Dyke used to say, schmuckery is the best thing you can do. Have a guy who thinks he’s something else and he’s being a schmuck. Well, that stunning laugh, and then with Greg Morris and his wife characters just standing there laughing at him, because they came knowing what this guy would react to. It was one of the biggest surprises, which is one of the essences of a good comedy show. There was no hint. And, it was one of the first examples of using a multicultural storyline without being condescending or getting into trouble.

(l-r): Sam Denoff, Dick Van Dyke (in-costume), Bill Persky on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show

On the legacy of The Dick Van Dyke Show

I think The Dick Van Dyke Show deserves the attention that it gets today because it was done so well. And again, that’s not because of us. It’s because of Carl’s [Reiner] vision and because of what, it absolutely deserves all the attention it gets. It’s one of the milestones of great television. Certainly a lot of great, wonderful shows have followed it. But I know a lot of the men and women who have written on those shows when they were trying to break in, like Billy [Persky] and me, and even the younger guys say that was like a landmark. A landmark piece of perfect kind of work. Absolutely.

On reuniting Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the special Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman

Mary’s career, after The Dick Van Dyke Show, had kind of a valley…. We thought it would be fun to do a special reuniting the two of them, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman because people thought they were really married, that’s how believable they were. The special material was written by our friend, Ray Charles, and in it he wrote one number which, which was magical, “Life is Just a Situation Comedy,” and they did a song and dance, little sketches in that. In the other memorable piece we had Dick and Mary as the two little bride and groom statues on the top of a wedding cake, waiting, at, at a wedding, but they talked to each other. And he doesn’t want to be there and she wants to be there, and she says, this is the most romantic thing…. And then, the wedding is over and they’re stuck in the freezer and we see them later taken out for the 25th anniversary of the couple and they’re all full of ice in the freezer. And the culmination of the number was really so sweet. They sang the great number from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me.” It was a terrific special. Mary, quite often, has credited that special with rejuvenating her career, which it did, because CBS said, “oh, wait a minute, why don’t we do a series with this girl, because she really is good.” They’d forgotten about her. And then Allan [Burns] and Jim [Brooks] wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was great.

On working with longtime writing partner Bill Persky

Working with a partner, as Billy and I did for 20 years, we brought different sensibilities to the comedy writing. We both had tremendous respect for each other’s ability. He was into much more warmth than I was. A lot of partnerships are that way. But what evolved from our differences was a great dynamic which was that we would work together on every scene, we didn’t take separate stuff. When you work with a partner, you trigger each other. Very often people would say, who wrote that? And we said, the third person. A third writer evolves from the two different writers.

Writing comedy is a lonely job if you’re by yourself. That’s why there are so many partnerships, because you can bounce off each other. The writing process is so difficult that when you can do that and one guy’s personality is this one and one is that one, and you can reap from both of those two different personalities. I don’t want to go into details of what’s that different, because, because it cost everybody too much money in psychiatrist’s office to get through that, but, it worked very well. I mean, the main reason that the partnership broke up was because Billy really wanted to be a director, which he became. A very successful comedy director.

On co-creating That Girl

While in the last year of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Danny Thomas, knowing it was the last year, would come into our office repeatedly, say, “hey, why don’t you write a show for my kid?” We said,” Marlo? She’s terrific. Is she funny?” He said, “she’s my kid, she’s got to be funny.” We hemmed and hawed because we were doing a pilot for another series at the same time called Good Morning World, about our experiences at the radio station WNEW. Finally, Danny said, “look, you’ve got to see her, she’s in London now working in ‘Barefoot in the Park’. They gave her great reviews and they didn’t even know who I am. I’ll buy you a ticket and hotel.” So, Billy and I fly off to London and we go to see her in the play and she was terrific. We came back and we started to talk about a pilot. She was known in her family as “Miss Independent”. She always had that very air of independence about her. However, and I don’t know whether it’s true, but when she was an out-of-work actress in New York she lived at The Plaza, so I don’t know how independent…. the idea about being a single girl on her own in New York evolved from all of those discussions about this independence. They wanted to call it Miss Independence at one time. We didn’t like that, it sounds like a musical.

So Billy and I wrote the pilot of her leaving her family who lived in Westchester and going down to live in New York. Discussion started about, okay, she’ll be a single girl. But then we said because of our training from Carl Reiner, she’s got to have a boyfriend. Why? Well, because we don’t want her to be single and what guy is she not going to sleep with this week — especially in those days in 1966. She agreed. We wrote the script and hired Ted Bessell. The original pilot was recast. Some of the actors didn’t test well, that nonsense. We didn’t know at the time, we’re credited in books and articles by the feminist movement as being on the forefront of the feminist movement. No, we were trying to do a show for Danny Thomas’ daughter. We had no agenda. Maybe Marlo did at the time. She professes now that she did. I don’t know whether she had the agenda as this woman’s statement. She wanted a show.

On his work for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

A fun job, as well as an often heartbreaking job is, is working as a consultant on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jerry is an old friend, I met him when I was at WNEW. He came in to town and William B. said, “this guy wrote that funny promo for you.” So Jerry and I have known each other for a long time and though he claims to be nine years old, I think I’m a little younger than he is, emotionally. We keep having a lot of fun together. Plus, for that cause, it’s worth all the effort, you know, and we do that.

On how he would like to be remembered

As being tall and very good-looking.

See Sam Denoff’s full Archive of American Television interview here.