"The producer has to convince people of the basic sports theory that sometimes you've got to work with people; you don't have to go to lunch with them."
About This Interview
Garry Marshall never thought about a career in television until he watched the variety comedy series Caesar's Hour. "...It was the most influential show cause I looked I said, I could do that. The others I didn't relate to," he says. Marshall's lively interview consists of many entertaining anecdotes about his over forty years in the television business. He describes his early years as a journalist and his eventual entry into comedy writing for The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. He talks about his work honing his craft as a writer on such '60s sitcoms as The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show. He speaks in detail about developing The Odd Couple for television with his partner Jerry Belson. He then discusses helming some of the most popular sitcoms of the 1970s, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy. For these shows he details the casting, development, and production as well as discussed the impact these series had on ABC. Finally, he briefly talks about his entry into feature filmmaking, offering this advice to aspiring producers, "use Julia Roberts" (she starred in his Pretty Woman). Garry Marshall was interviewed at his Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake, CA on August 28, 2000; Karen Herman conducted the three-hour interview.
Garry Marshall was the executive producer of a string of sitcoms that helped ABC win the ratings race for the first time in the network's history in the late 1970s. While Norman Lear's Tandem Productions and Grant Tinker's MTM Enterprises had put CBS on top in the early part of the decade, by the end of the 1978-79 season, four of the five highest-rated shows of the year were Marshall's.
Marshall became a comedy writer during the last years of television's "golden age." He started out as an itinerant joke writer for an assortment of TV comics and eventually secured a staff writing position on The Joey Bishop Show. There he met Jerry Belson, with whom he would go on to write two feature films, a Broadway play, and episodes for a variety of TV series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and I Spy. The last project Marshall and Belson did together was the most successful of their partnership. The Odd Couple, a series they adapted from the Neil Simon play in 1970, would run for five seasons and have a major impact on Marshall's comic style.
Rather than forming his own independent production company, which had become standard procedure for producers at the time, Marshall remained at Paramount to make a succession of hit situation comedies for ABC. Happy Days debuted as a series in January of 1974, and by the 1976-77 season it was the most popular show on TV. Set in Milwaukee in the 1950s and centered around a teenager (Ron Howard), his family, and his friends, Happy Days generated three spin-offs, all of which Marshall supervised. Laverne and Shirley featured two working-class women (Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams) whose antic schemes were reminiscent of those portrayed on The Lucy Show. Viewers were introduced to the frenetic young comic Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy, a series about an alien (Williams) who comes to Earth to study human behavior by moving in with an all-American young woman (Pam Dawber). Joannie Loves Chachi followed two of the younger characters from Happy Days, as they struggled to make it as rock 'n' roll musicians.
While Norman Lear had used shows like All In the Family and Maude to explore contemporary social issues like racism, the women's movement, and the war in Vietnam, Marshall's shows were usually more concerned with less timely personal issues like blind dates, making out, and breaking up. Lear, Tinker, and others had attracted young audiences with "relevant" programming earlier in the decade; Marshall attracted even younger ones with lighter, more escapist fare, most of it set in the supposedly simpler historic past. In an interview reprinted in American Television Genres (1985), Marshall recalled that, after producing the adult-oriented Odd Couple, he had been anxious to make shows "that both kids and their parents could watch." When he gave a speech upon accepting the Lifetime Achievement Prize given at the American Comedy Awards in 1990, Marshall said that "If television is the education of the American people, then I am recess." Not surprisingly, four of Marshall's sitcoms were adapted into Saturday morning cartoons.
Marshall continued to borrow from The Odd Couple throughout his career. Over and over again he employed the comic device of coupling two distinctly different characters: the hip and the square on Happy Days, the earthling and the Orkan on Mork and Mindy, the rich and the poor on Angie, and, later, the businessman and the prostitute in the movie Pretty Woman. In 1982, he brought a short-lived remake of The Odd Couple to ABC, this time with African-Americans Ron Glass and Demond Wilson playing the parts of Felix and Oscar.
By the mid-1980s, Marshall had turned his attention to directing, producing, and occasionally writing feature films, including Young Doctors in Love (1982), The Flamingo Kid (1984), Nothing In Common (1986), Overboard (1987), Beaches (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), and Frankie and Johnny (1991). He also began appearing on screen occasionally, most recently in a recurring role on Murphy Brown.
Marshall's television tradition was carried on by Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett, two alumni of Marshall's production staff. Their youth-oriented series like Perfect Strangers, Full House, and Family Matters became staples of ABC's Friday night lineup in the later 1980s and arly 1990s.
-Robert J. Thompson
Kaminsky, Stuart, with Jeffrey H. Mahan. American Television Genres. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1985.
Marc, David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From I Love Lucy to L.A. Law--America's Greatest TV Shows and the People Who Created Them. New York: Little, Brown, 1992.
Newcomb, Horace, and Robert S. Alley. The Producer's Medium. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
GARRY MARSHALL. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 13 November 1934. Educated at Northwestern University, B.S. in journalism, 1956. Married: Barbara: children: one son, two daughters. Served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, writing for Stars and Stripes and serving as a production chief for the Armed Forces Radio Network. Worked as a copy boy, and briefly as a reporter, for the New York Daily News, 1956-59; wrote comedy material for Phil Foster and Joey Bishop; drummer in his own jazz band; successful stand-up comedian and playwright; in television from late 1950s, starting as writer for The Jack Paar Show; prolific television writer through 1960s, creator-executive producer for various television series from 1974; also active creatively in films and stage.
1959-61 The Jack Paar Show (writer) 1961-65 The Joey Bishop Show (writer) 1961-64 The Danny Thomas Show (writer) 1961-66 The Dick Van Dyke Show (writer) 1962-68 The Lucy Show (writer) 1965-68 I Spy (writer) 1966-67 Hey Landlord (creator, writer, director) 1970-75 The Odd Couple (executive producer, writer, director) 1972-74 The Little People (The Brian Keith Show) (creator, executive producer) 1974-84 Happy Days (creator, executive producer) 1976-83 Laverne and Shirley (creator, executive producer) 1974 Blansky's Beauties (creator, executive producer) 1978 Who's Watching the Kids? (creator, executive producer) 1978-82 Mork and Mindy (creator, executive producer) 1979-80 Angie (creator, executive producer) 1982-83 Joanie Loves Chachi (creator, executive producer) 1982-83 The New Odd Couple (executive producer) 1994- Murphy Brown (actor)
1972 Evil Roy Slade (creator, executive producer)
1979 Sitcom: The Adventures of Garry Marshall
FILMS (as writer-producer)
How Sweet It Is, 1968; The Grasshopper, 1970; (as director) Young Doctors In Love (also executive producer), 1982; The Flamingo Kid (and co-writer), 1984; Nothing In Common, 1986; Overboard, 1987; Beaches, 1988; Pretty Woman, 1990; Frankie and Johnnie, 1991; (as actor) Psych-Out, 1968; Lost In America, 1985; Jumpin' Jack Flash, 1986; Soapdish, 1991; A League of Their Own, 1992; Hocus Pocus, 1993.
The Roost (writer, with Jerry Belson), 1980; Wrong Turn at Lungfish (writer, with Lowell Ganz; also director, actor), 1992.