Mr. TV: Call Me Columbo

As we head further into the summer months, I thought it would be fun to delve into some fan favorites from the halls of TV and highlight some things you might not know about these shows and their stars.

If you watched sitcom Married With Children, I am sure you’ll recall that chauvinistic patriarch Al Bundy worked in a shoe store.  If Al’s place of business looked familiar, it was actually the same set used for the travel agency that Barbara and Max worked at during the final season of One Day at a Time.  One of the episodes of One Day, meanwhile, was supposed to feature Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano being attacked by a rapist.  But that dark  and unfortunate story line was handed to poor Edith Bunker on the episode titled “Edith’s 50th Birthday” on All in the Family—one of the most dramatic moments in TV history.

Speaking of All in the Family, did you know that Mickey Rooney was Norman Lear’s original choice to play Archie Bunker?  Can you imagine grown-up Andy Hardy calling Edith a “Dingbat” and Mike a “Meat Head”?  Go stifle yourself!

One of the truly landmark comedies of the 1970s was The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  And MTM, of course, spun off Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.  Affable Murray Slaughter never got his own show.  But Gavin MacLeod first auditioned for the role of Lou and Jack Cassidy was considered for the role of Ted Baxter. Imagine perky Mary spouting “Oh…Mr. Grant” to the future Captain Stubing or David Cassidy’s Papa as dumbbell Ted. The character of Rhoda, meanwhile, was almost dropped when test viewers watching the pilot found her to be too acerbic. After the producers added a line where Phyllis’ young daughter Bess mentions how much she likes Rhoda, the audience lightened up. Leave it to a TV kid to smooth things over.

After recently watching the entire first season of Rhoda on DVD (“New York…this is your last chance!”), I found it interesting that nagging Mama Ida mentions she is 52-years-old in one episode. Then, in the next DVD, she is suddenly married almost 40 years. She must have made quite a lovely child bride!

As for Gavin MacLeod, seven years on MTM and nine on The Love Boat gives him the distinction of appearing on a regularly scheduled hit Saturday night series consecutively for more years than anyone else in the history of television. And I bet you didn’t know that Murray’s TV wife Marie (Joyce Bulifant) was the original choice to play Carol on The Brady Bunch.

Considerably more dramatic was Party of Five, which aired from 1994-2000 and featured five orphaned siblings (headed by Matthew Fox, pre-Lost). While critics praised the serial for its seemingly realistic portrayal of these troubled youths, was I the only one dumbfounded by the age spread of these kids?  While anything is possible, Fox as Charlie was 24 when the series began, followed by Bailey (16), Julia (15), Claudia (11) and Owen (1).  Also interesting is the link Party of Five has to All in the Family.  Did you know that Carroll
O’Connor guest starred in six episodes as the siblings’ long-lost grandfather? Given all the mishegoss these kids had to face, couldn’t Grandpa Jacob have hung around longer?

Another show focused on orphans—classic sitcom Family Affair—featured young Buffy, Jody and Cissy. The trio of tots move in with their successful Uncle Bill and his butler, prissy Mr. French, after their parents die in an accident. While the premise seems sadly rational, did you ever wonder why this swinging bachelor was living in an apartment with three extra bedrooms handy?  Buffy and Cissy didn’t even have to share a room.

TV’s quirkiest scripted hour in recent years, Gilmore Girls also has an unusual connection to ’70s family drama The Waltons. When fast-talking Lorelai and giggly Sookie opened their own inn, it just happened to be the old Walton house.

And as for that little house on classic Little House on the Prairie, what I never could understand is why handy Charles Ingalls did not add on to living space after he and wife Caroline kept taking in more homeless children.

No matter what shows you watch, past or present, Mr. TV can always find something that just does not make sense. Just call me the Columbo of TV history.

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