The unusual genesis of two 1960s TV classics

Head of the Family–D+

Make Room for Daddy:  Danny Meets Andy Griffith (Season 7, episode 20)–A

I love old-time television comedies and if you do, too, then I have a couple interesting and obscure recommendations for you.  It seems that two classic American TV shows have barely seen pilot episodes floating about on the internet–ones that are VERY different from the shows we later came to love.

Head of the Family was the first attempt to create The Dick Van Dyke Show.  But, since it did NOT star Dick Van Dyke, the show is very odd–and even stranger because of the overall style of the show.  The pilot ended up tanking and it’s not really surprising when you see it today.  It’s not terrible, but instead of starring Van Dyke, Carl Reiner (who created and wrote the show and later played Alan Brady) plays Rob Petrie.  But this Petrie is very different.  His name is pronounced ‘Pee-tree’ and he and his family are extremely loud and extremely ethnic–unlike the incredibly white bread Petrie family you are used to seeing.  Additionally, little Ritchie is one of the most obnoxious children I’ve ever seen on television–not the adorable kid later played by Larry Mathews.  And, to make matters worse, he’s a much more dominant and important part of Head of the Family than the character was on the later show.  So, if you dislike the kid (and it’s hard not to), then it makes it very, very tough to like the program.  And, I can only assume that the network execs hated Ritchie as well, though they still were willing to approve a re-tooled version for the 1961 TV lineup.

So why would I recommend you see this?  Well, if you’ve loved the old show, it’s a very fascinating chance to see how different the original show was versus the later show.  And, only a year later, so much of the chemistry was changed that the characters are much more endearing and charming.  Charming, the folks in Head of the Family are NOT–but they are interesting and worth seeing just for curiosity sake.  And, if you want to see it, it is available from several sources, including  Hulu.

The other unusual first version of a later hit series is one episode of the famous Danny Thomas television show, Make Room for Daddy.  It’s obviously intended as a pilot–a chance for an established show to introduce a new show and characters in what is often termed the ‘spin-off’.  This sort of thing was pretty common back in the day–with shows like Petticoat Junction and Green Acres being spinoffs from The Beverly Hillbillies.  The same can be said for a lot of other shows, such as when The Mary Tyler Moore Show spun-off Rhoda and Phyllis and All in the Family spun-off Maude and The Jeffersons.

In Danny Meets Andy Griffith, Danny  (Danny Thomas) is arrested in a small town by Sheriff Andy for running a stop sign without stopping.  Danny clearly is at fault but is also very rude towards Andy–calling him hick, rube and other nasty names.  During all this, Andy is polite and good-natured–and very similar to the Andy we all grew to love on the later series.  However, he is just a bit different and seems almost like Andy Taylor combined with Will Stockdale–the character that had recently made Griffith famous on Broadway, television and in film with three different versions of No Time for Sergeants (which you can read here).  In other words, Andy played the part more for laughs and is clearly playing to the audience as opposed to in The Andy Griffith Show where character development and plot would become more important than laughs.  Now this does NOT mean that this first appearance of the Sheriff is bad.  Heck, he’s hilarious and has lots of wonderful lines that made me laugh out loud when I re-watched the program tonight.  The show is obviously better than the first incarnation of The Dick Van Dyke Show–and it holds up very well today.

If you do watch this very charming and funny pilot, and it’s available through YouTube, you also might be a bit surprised by Andy’s supporting cast.  Ronnie Howard is there as Andy’s son, Opie.  But the town drunk, Otis, is the town drunk Will (played by Frank Cady of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction fame) and Frances Bavier plays a different character, not the lovable Aunt Bea.

Now who do we have to thank for BOTH these shows?  Well, the executive producer was Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yakhoob…otherwise known as Danny Thomas.  So, in addition to his own wildly successful show of the 1950s and 60s, he’s also responsible for two more of the best shows of the 1960s.

My advice is to give both shows a look.  Both will cost you nothing but your time to watch and they’re a very unusual walk down memory lane.

by Martin Hafer