The 1960s was a decade of turmoil, social unrest, and imagination run amuck. No better place for the latter than Hollywood, California and the small town in a big metropolis—Burbank. Burbank was named for a dentist, Dr. David E. Burbank, who migrated to California from Maine in the 1800s. This charming community has long been an entertainment mecca with more than its share of studios and sound stages in the Southeast corner of the San Fernando Valley. It is home to the Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, the CBS Studio Center, NBC-Comcast/Universal, The Burbank Studios, Cartoon Network Studios, and a host of others.
Although we think of Hollywood as home to the entertainment industry, Burbank a few miles north of Hollywood is also where the action is. Burbank was one of those places few ever thought about until “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” made it famous by calling it “Beautiful Downtown Burbank…” Johnny Carson also gave it that distinction on “The Tonight Show” back in the day.
As television began to take off early in the decade, so did imagination. The 1960s became a decade of zany sitcoms that dared explore the absurd. Sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island, Mr. Ed, Hazel, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, Leave It To Beaver, The Lucy Show, I Dream Of Jeannie, Bewitched, Family Affair, My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, That Girl, My Favorite Martian, Dennis The Menace, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Hogan’s Heroes, and even The Monkees kept viewers tuned in week after week. Boomers just couldn’t get enough. What’s more, young people remain hooked on these situation comedies generations later.
There were some sitcoms on the edge of imagination. Some, like “Jeannie” and “Bewitched,” endured. They lasted five seasons. Jeannie was a fantasy trip for a lot of men. An astronaut and a beautiful woman who popped from a bottle in a haze of smoke? There was abundant sexual tension—and no sex?
The biggest insults were one-season wonders—for example “My Mother the Car” and “It’s About Time.” Are you kidding me? Even at the age of 11, I had to scratch my head wondering what kind of bad tobacco they were smoking in Los Angeles in 1965.
Dave Crabtree’s (Jerry Van Dyke) mother (Ann Sothern) was reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile. You can’t make this stuff up, but someone did. Just imagine the situations Crabtree found himself in with his mother on four wheels. Ann’s voice would flash from the radio when she spoke. She would speak only to Dave – kind of like Ed only speaking to Wilbur. The irony is, car radios didn’t exist in 1928. “My Mother The Car” lasted one season and no wonder.
“It’s About Time…” was another really absurd situation comedy only no one was laughing. These two bumbling clowns posing as astronauts came down into the Gilligan’s Island lagoon in a corrugated tin space capsule with pyrotechnic sparklers popping in the engine pods, greeted by prehistoric cave men and women. Are you kidding me??? One of the cavemen—actor Joe E. Ross, (Car 54 Where Are You?) with a New York accent, never made much of a statement, but it paid the actor’s bills.
Two astronauts, traveling faster than light, go back in time to prehistoric Earth. Unable to return, they befriend the locals. Then, to add insult to injury, they bring the natives into the 20th Century where they attempt to blend into present time in an attempt to save the series. Not meant to be. “It’s About Time” faded quickly into prehistoric times. One could hope it would never make syndication.
The golden era of television was a learning curve of what worked and what didn’t. What kept an audience and what did not. There were quite a number of one-season wonder sitcoms and drama series that barely lasted a season and there was a reason why. They were terrible. That said, “The Monkees” was another one that actually managed to last two seasons yet developed a huge multi-generational following that has lasted for decades. The Monkees pioneered the music video.
The news wasn’t all bad for producer Sherwood Schwartz. He produced very successful franchises. “Gilligan’s Island” was very successful as was “The Brady Bunch.” Both retain a sizable audience today across the generations. Everyone wanted to be a Brady kid. Gilligan’s Island was just goofy enough to get a belly laugh every time something really stupid happened. And yes, Mary Ann was more to my liking than Ginger. I still don’t understand how they kept that portable radio going without replacement batteries for years, nor do I understand where all this everyday “stuff” came from no one would take on a three-hour tour including the Professor’s portable nuclear reactor and slide rule.
The Brady Bunch was believable, but downright corny at times. Why anyone would bring “Tiger” the dog to a wedding where a cat was present is beyond me. You just know Mike Brady (Robert Reed) was decidedly furious when the wedding cake fell on him. The busted vase — remember that? Elmer’s Glue-All was used in an effort to glue it back together? Problem? Elmer’s is water soluble. At dinner, the vase swiftly became unglued for all to see and at the horror of six naïve crumb crushers who thought they could get away with it.
I can’t help it. Every time I hear the name Marcia, I feel inclined to go “Marcia-Marcia-Marcia!!!” Eve Plumb lives in each of us.