Monday, December 17, 2012

Okay, so who REALLY REALLY created BEWITCHED

Lots of comments Friday about my post on who created BEWITCHED. A number of you suggested real credit should go to the screenwriters of the 1942 movie I MARRIED A WITCH. With all due respect to those writers – Robert Pirosh, Marc Connelly, Norman Matson, Rene Clair, Andre Rigaud, Dalton Trumbo and Thorne Smith (whose story the movie was based on) – they may have tread on similar territory but it is not BEWITCHED.

For one thing, the story is different. In the movie a witch comes back from Colonial Salem to seek revenge which results in comic mishaps.

Others wonder how Sol Saks could receive creator credit on BEWITCHED when he only wrote the pilot. Why didn’t he stay with the series? First of all, that's not relevant. And secondly, who cares? Maybe he had three other projects and didn’t want to commit to a series. Maybe he lived in New Hampshire and didn’t want to move. Maybe he and the studio hated each other. Who knows? And we’ll never know how different the direction of the series might have been had he stayed at the helm. But Danny Arnold did a fantastic job assuming the showrunner role.

Meanwhile, some commenters suggested the idea was the studio’s and he was just hired to write it.

Okay, first off – the Writers Guild has very specific guidelines for determining created by credits. So if he passed that test, he’s the creator. Period.

But it’s more than that. Let’s look at what creating a series entails. Networks buy upwards of fifty pilot script a year (more back then). Out of that they decide to make maybe ten or fifteen. Out of those four perhaps five get ordered as a series. So there’s tremendous competition. Your script has to be good enough to buck those odds.

Now, the script itself. A sitcom pilot must set up the premise, introduce all the characters, set the tone, tell a story, be funny, and clearly indicate where the series is headed – all in twenty minutes. Young writers trying to break in are now asked to submit original material. Most are writing pilots and learning firsthand what a holy bitch they are to write.

Oh, and a good series has to be about something. There has to be a theme.

So let’s look at BEWITCHED specifically. A mortal marries a witch, much to the consternation of her mother. The mortal doesn’t want the witch to use her powers. He wants her to act “mortal.” What’s the series about? Magic? Fantasy? Craziness? No. It’s about culture clashes. Remember, BEWITCHED came along around the time of the Civil Rights Bill. What a fun twist on a mixed-marriage where the white guy is the outsider. And as for the notion of Samantha not being able to use her witchcraft – how different is that from gay people being unable to be who they are? Sol Saks had a lot going on underneath the jokes, didn’t he?

And then there are the characters. Besides a central romance that’s so well-drawn, the Endora (mother) character is the perfect comic antagonist. You don’t design great characters like that by just twitching your nose. Sol Saks introduced them and brought them to life.

He also fashioned the very clever story that introduced everybody and set the series into motion. And wrote all the jokes. Execution is everything. How many shows have been set in bars? From DUFFY’S TAVERN to ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE and probably six others in between, a show set in a watering hole has been a common premise. But in the hands of the Charles Brothers & James Burrows, it became magic. It became CHEERS.

So credit where creator credit is due. Sol Saks created BEWITCHED.  And for that, I -- as a huge Elizabeth Montgomery fan -- am eternally grateful. 

41 comments:

normadesmond said...

to this day i've always thought the vanity plate,
ENDORA would look great on my car.

Mitchell Hundred said...

My mom has a theory that a lot of the sitcoms from the '50s and '60s have queer undertones to them. For instance, My Favourite Martian is about two guys who live together and have a special secret that they can't tell anyone about. Mr. Ed is about a man who has a secret which gets him into trouble all the time, and a wife who tries to sympathize with him even though she doesn't know what's going on.

ScottyB said...

Good points all, Ken. It's a lot like the automobile. Henry Ford didn't actually invent the thing, but boy, did he ever figure out a way make it popular in this country.

ScottyB said...

Ha! The question over who really created 'Bewitched' is nothing. Imagine the arguments God must be refereeing every stinkin' day forever between Charles Grafton Page, Innocenzo Manzetti, Charles Bourseul, Johann Philipp Reis, Antonio Meucci, Cromwell Varley, Poul la Cour, Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs over the telehphone.

Rockgolf said...

Mitchell Hundred's mom may have a point. Fred & Barney spent an inordinate amount of time together and belonged to a "secret society". Why did the Skipper keep calling Gilligan his "little buddy"? Why were there no married members of the Clampetts, but they still all lived together? Just what were those sisters doing naked in the watertower in the Petticoat Junction credits? Was Ernie really Fred McMurray's "Uncle"?

Michael said...

A comparison from Ken's and my favorite sport. Larry MacPhail was a major league general manager/team president for little more than a decade. In that time, his teams won or were built to play in several World Series (the Reds won after he left, he started the Dodgers on the road to being a juggernaut, and he made key trades that shaped the Yankee dynasty), started night baseball, became the first team to broadcast all games live home and away, the first telecast .... He did a lot to create modern major league baseball in only a decade. Sol Saks created a wonderful TV show and what he designed survived and prospered.

John said...

Like I put in Friday's post -- Saks wrote it, Danny Arnold picked the people who make the show come alive, and people like Jerry Davis and Bernard Slade help craft the story lines that made "Bewitched" the No. 2 show in the Nielsens in it's debut season (at a time when ABC was roughly where Fox was around 1990 or the CW is right now -- desperate for any hit and clinging to life).

The Saks-Arnold-Davis-Slade first two seasons of the show (the B&W ones) are a far different, and IMHO, better, show than the seasons that came after (Season 3 producer William Froug came to "Bewitched" off working for CBS the previous two years on "Twilight Zone" and "Gillian's Island" ... which is pretty much the combined direction the show took in its final years).

OK, going from a comment in the Friday question section to a Friday question -- Ken, have you ever done a script for an already-successful show that was designed from the outset to be the pilot for a spin-off show, where you had to fit characters X, Y and Z into the already-established situation?

"Happy Days" had a glut of those types of episodes in the late 1970s-early 80s, and even "Star Trek" did one episode that was basically supposed to be the pilot for a new sci-fi show (albeit I'm still miffed NBC passed on a show with Terri Garr as the lead actress). It seems like for every 'hit' in these types of shows ("The Jeffesons" pilot coming off an episode of "All in the Family" or "The Andy Griffith Show" coming off one from "The Danny Thomas Show"), there are about 2-3 examples where -- when you see it in reruns -- the show's script feels like the writers were trying to put a square peg into a round hole, in terms of the characters they're hoping to put into their own show.

VincentS said...

Thanks for addressing the issue, Ken. Although I didn't post anything, I was thinking about the I MARRIED A WITCH issue as well. And I didn't know Danny Arnold was the showrunner on BEWITCHED. The same guy who created BARNEY MILLER! Just goes to show you: Writer/Producers, like actors, shouldn't be typecast.

The DRC Family said...

Friday Question, Ken: How many theaters does a movie need to show in prior to its national release in order to qualify it for the Golden Globes and Oscars?

I see that Les Miserables got several GG nominations but its release date is Christmas Day.

Thanks!

Jeff said...

Why not let Sol Saks speak for himself?

http://youtu.be/PFVwa9-kezI

Brian Phillips said...

Danny Arnold was prominent enough that during the run of "Barney Miller", he merited either an article or at least a mention in TV Guide, because several people on the show mentioned his work ethic. The phrase, "Danny's Demons" was used.

Chris said...

Civil rights? Maybe. Lot's of stuff in the air at the time, but I've always thought that both "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" were more specifically about the emerging Women's Movement...females in a domestic environment that have so much more to offer than they are "allowed" by the men in their lives (and society). This is harder to argue with "Jeannie," as her magical powers were wildly inconsistent, but I would still say that it is there to some degree.

Paul Duca said...

Rockgolf...Ernie was originally Chip Douglas' neighborhood friend. After oldest son Mike left the show, a now-orphaned Ernie was adopted by Steve.

Wayne said...

I still say Bewitched was created by Francis Bacon.
Although the Winklevoss twins say it was their idea.

thomas tucker said...

Wow. This is like seeing how many figures you can see in cloud formations! Absent overt discussion by the writer about his intent, I don't think it's kosher to start drawing political ramifications out of his situation comedy scripts.

VP81955 said...

Ha! The question over who really created 'Bewitched' is nothing. Imagine the arguments God must be refereeing every stinkin' day forever between Charles Grafton Page, Innocenzo Manzetti, Charles Bourseul, Johann Philipp Reis, Antonio Meucci, Cromwell Varley, Poul la Cour, Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs over the telephone.

God finally threw up His hands, went along with movie buffs and credited the phone to Don Ameche.

Tom Quigley said...

Speaking of subliminal gay references, I remember one episode of BEWITCHED where Samantha went back to colonial Salem, MA and the guest star in that week's episode (I think it might have been Bert Convy) made an allusion to the fact that in portraying someone other than herself as part of the episode's story, he thought she must be quite a thespian -- to which Samantha replied with a mischievous smile "Oh, I'm not that way at all!"

benson said...

One series where there's no question who the creators were is "Mary". None other than David Isaacs and Ken Levine. I've posted another episode (possibly the last one as it's #13)
And I would argue it's better than anything we'll see in prime-time tonight.

http://youtu.be/7JWNKdPBn1w

McAlvie said...

I do think Bewitched was one of the first sitcoms to show a woman being smart and pro-active, so I see it being relevant to the women's movement. But then, aren't all cultural movements about people having the freedom to be who they really are?

Mac said...

I wish I'd created it, as I'd now be writing this on board my yacht. Elizabeth Montgomery was a total babe.

Rick said...

I had always heard that Mary Savage's "A Stillness Of Voices" was the uncredited source of BEWITCHED: In fact I read many years ago that there was an undisclosed settlement on a lawsuit by Savage.

Her early 60s fantasy novel's main character is a sweet and kind housewife who's trying to hide that she's a witch; an ineffectual and clueless advertising executive husband; and a nasty sorceress i(n the novel, lethal) who wants total control over her niece, the housewife witch...

RCP said...

"And as for the notion of Samantha not being able to use her witchcraft – how different is that from gay people being unable to be who they are?"

While I can see its feminist subtext as well, Bewitched strongly resonated with me as a gay kid - and with characters like Endora and Uncle Arthur, how could it not? Aside from having Elizabeth Montgomery as its star and being funny and entertaining - especially during its first few seasons - what I loved about Bewitched was that, while Sam did indeed hide her "secret" from square society, she was never ashamed of who she was, and it was clear that Darren and the other mortals were the ones with the issues, not her. It can be argued that Sam sacrificed herself to be with Darren, but it never felt (to me at least) like she was really under his control. Of course, if he looked at her cross-eyed, she could turn him into a grapefruit.

Phillip B said...

And I've read that the studio owned the rights to both "I Married a Witch" and "Bell Book and Candle" - giving Saks the freedom to take what he wanted.

Always liked Bell Book and Candle - although James Stewart and Kim Novak seemed an odd match. And Stewart was the lead.

The mistake would be to remake Bewitched with Darrin Stevens as the lead - which is, of course, exactly what Will Ferrell did.

prior2before said...

Friday question: Was Mitchell Hundred's mom right?

D. McEwan said...

"The DRC Family said...
Friday Question, Ken: How many theaters does a movie need to show in prior to its national release in order to qualify it for the Golden Globes and Oscars?"


I don't know about the Golden Globes, but to qualify for an Oscar, a movie must play at least one week in at least one theater in Los Angeles. Filmmakers have been known to rent LA theaters for a week just to qualify. Christmas Day is, therefore, the last day of the year you can release a film in L.A. to make that year's Oscar consideration.

"Phillip B said...
James Stewart and Kim Novak seemed an odd match."


Why? They were certainly great together in Vertigo, made just before Bell, Book and Candle. Incidentally, B,B and C is running this week about 5 or 6 times on Antenna TV, as is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Phillip B said...

Phillip B said...
"James Stewart and Kim Novak seemed an odd match."

D. McEwan -- Love them both, and loved both films. And the 25 year difference their ages was part of the narrative in Bell Book and Candle. And established actors are conventionally paired with much younger women. But still, it seemed harder to pull off in a comedy.

Jimmy just needed her magic to make him younger, I guess...

Mitchell Hundred said...

For the record, Rockgolf, I am not saying that one needs to read subtext into everything. But gay people do tend to be involved in show business more often than not, and in a repressive time like the '50s it's not inconceivable that their experience keeping things secret would have informed their craft.

ScottyB said...

>>> Tom Quigley said "Speaking of subliminal gay references ..." <<<

After awhile, someone just figured out if they'd cast Paul Lynde as a semi-regular, nobody would have to work quite so hard at being subliminal that week.

Boner Pyle, YMCA said...

The gayest show of the 1960s was "F Troop": desperate men in color-coordinated uniforms, surrounded by shafts of thick wood, where paleface and redskin both turn chicken, before they resume with a bang and a boom. What did you think the "F" stood for, anyway?

Either that, or "The Huntley-Brinkley Report."

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

Since you bring up the subject of gay subtext in sitcoms, it was always my hunch that Frasier and Niles were written as a gay couple in the guise of brothers. The catty rapport, the spouse-like bickering, and Niles being unbelievable as a straight man (which somehow made the character funnier)-- I would have bet money that the subtext was intentional. True?

Storm said...

All I'm sayin' is, between "I Married A Witch" (story and movie), "Bell, Book, and Candle", and Fritz Leiber's novel "Conjure Wife" (which was filmed as "Burn, Witch, Burn!"), the idea of a hapless regular guy dealing with the weirdness of his lovely wife being a witch was pretty well covered territory by the time "Bewitched" came about. I point this out not as any kind of dis/read on "Bewitched", or who did or did not create it, just that *I* had always *thought* they were they *inspiration* for the show. Didn't mean to make you plotz or anything, sheesh.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Dana Gabbard said...

Here is a 1960s article "TV's Witch to Watch posted by some fans of the show with details about the origins of the series and comments by Danny Arnold that are apropos Ken's mention of the premise's subtext in re prejudice and social issues...

thomas tucker said...

@Dana- thanks for the article, and I stand , or sit, corrected. Excellent pictures of Elizabeth Montgomery in that article as well!

RCP said...

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

"...the catty rapport..." That's a bit of a stereotype, Fuzzy - but I'm in a good mood so I won't scratch your eyes out.

Actually, due to the talents of David Hyde Pierce, I was able to buy his attraction to Daphne - though if the right guy came along...

D. McEwan said...

"Storm said...
All I'm sayin' is, between 'I Married A Witch' (story and movie), 'Bell, Book, and Candle', and Fritz Leiber's novel 'Conjure Wife' (which was filmed as 'Burn, Witch, Burn!'), the idea of a hapless regular guy dealing with the weirdness of his lovely wife being a witch..."


I would hardly call Norman Saylor, the protagonist of Conjure Wife, "hapless." He has a rough time of it, yes, but he rises to the occasion. He's quite capable. (And in the movie, he's also quite sexy.)

Each of those works is vastly different from the others in tone. There's some real darkness lying under I Married a Witch. (It opens with Veronica Lake being burned at the stake, for Heaven's sake - literally for Heaven's sake, which hardly promises yuks, though yuks come eventually.) Bell, Book and Candle has a very eerie offbeat mood to it. (It also has Elsa Lanchester. ANYTHING is better with Elsa Lanchester in it.) Bewitched is pretty straight-forward sit-com, and of course, Conjure Wife, aka Burn, Witch, Burn (An excellent movie) is an out-and-out horror story, devoid of humor.

Well, in the novel Conjure Wife there is a conceit I found highly amusing that is absent from the film. (Though excellent, the movie is not as good as Leiber's terrific book.) In the novel, Norman (The name undoubtedly chosen for its similarity to "Normal") discovers not only that his wife and one of the faculty wives are witches, he discovers that all women on earth are witches, they're just hiding this from the men, the way the witches and wizards hide their existence from the muggles in the Harry Potter stories. That's a pretty funny idea, and it turns every straight marraige into Bewitched.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@D. McEwan "he discovers that all women on earth are witches..."

Bugs Bunny once said, "Aren't they all witches inside?"

"Bewitched" was about mixed marriages, prejudice, ageism and most of all, how a relationship withstands the pressures of family and work politics. As in Harry Potter stories, the magic didn't always solve the problems and usually complicated them.

My favorite episode was "'A' is for Aardvark," in which Darrin is given magical control of the house after a minor injury and changes his mind about witchcraft.

Samantha helps him realize that you can't enjoy or appreciate life that comes too easily ("I could just arrange that the you had memories of a trip around the world and we wouldn't have to go.") Life is about the journey -- the journey together.

Of course, a few years later, an average episode might be about one of Sam's relatives turning Darrin into an ingrown toenail, Larry would fire him, but at the last moment Sam would explain to the client (president of a foot care company) how this was Darrin's idea for an ad campaign and Larry would rehire him.

"You son of a gun."

Bob Claster said...

Danny Arnold discusses BEWITCHED and many other very interesting topics in a half-hour interview I did with him on KCRW which can be heard at www.bobclaster.com. He was a fascinating character, and we will never see his like again.

Lyle said...

I worked at KSON, the am sister station of KSEA. I think I left before the KSEA Christmas Eve massacre, but I heard about it. (I may have been there at the time ... it was a long time ago and the memory dims).

I've never had much admiration for Dan McKinnon since that episode. If you'll recall, Dan made a big show of what a wonderful Christian he was.

I thought to myself, "I don't deny any man the right to terminate his staff . . . but on Christmas Eve? How difficult would it have been to wait till the day after Christmas? Why ruin Christmas for the employees as well as their families?"

At some point in time I left KSON to move to KOWN in Escondido, eventually becomming VP and General Manager for the next seven years.

While there, I got an invite from McKinnon to be his guest on stage during a Billy Graham presentation. I accepted but still didn't think a whole lot of McKinnon. (I never "got" Billy Graham. I thought if I was on the stage with him, seated 10-15 feet from him, that maybe the magic would work and I'd understand what thousands saw in him. I didn't. Didn't work. He was just another nice man making a speech, but nothing particularly awesome).

Since the KSEA massacre I've never had an ouce of respect for McKinnon. He was a Navy pilot, a very successful and wealthy businessman . . . but a doody-head.

I'm aware he just passed away about a month ago. They say one should speak ill of the dead.

I just did.

He earned it.

Lyle said...

Sorry . . .just noticed a typo in my earlier message. (That's what you get for not proofing before hitting the Send button). Should have read, "One should not speak ill of the dead."

Also, I was in sales at KSON, not on the air. Have done lots of on-air work, including serving as a war correspondent in S. Vietnam during 1968 and 1969.

(Think that's the only typo in my message).

Charles said...

And I've read that the studio owned the rights to both "I Married a Witch" and "Bell Book and Candle" - giving Saks the freedom to take what he wanted.

Columbia has never owned rights to I MARRIED A WITCH, scuttling this theory.

BEWITCHED, at least in its early seasons, was probably the best of the gimmick sitcoms that were rampant on television in those days. That it started out at such a high level of quality is what makes its slide in later seasons so aggravating.

Most offensive to me is how lazy the show's writing staff became, just dusting off old scripts, giving them a light rewrite to change the details, and filming them again. William Asher, when asked about that in later years, just sort of waved the question away and said, "Oh, everybody does that if they run long enough." Honestly, though, I can't think of another long-running sitcom which is guilty of this. I'm not talking about "variations on a theme" storylines. After all, look how often Frasier and Niles were pitted against each other, competing for some petty honor or how often Lucy Ricardo snuck into Ricky's nightclub act. I'm talking about actually taking an old script, changing a few details, and refilming it as "new" episode.

D. McEwan said...

OK, I just finished watching Bell, Book and Candle, and in it, witches lose their powers if they fall in love, so at the end, when she accepts that she's in love and agrees to marry him, she's lost her powers (represented visually by her ceasing to wear the black beatnick outfits she's been in throughout the film - the picture seems to equate witches and warlocks with beatnicks. Odd - and is wearning a white dress and blouse) so she is no longer a witch. Plus they don't marry until after the picture concludes.

So it is out of the running as a source for Bewitched altogether.