Sunday, March 27, 2022
Sunday, March 20, 2022
One of my favorite TV comedies was Bewitched. I remember watching and loving this show in its initial network run and still enjoying it in countless reruns throughout my teen years and later... right up to today. The show was conceived by screenwriter Sol Saks, lifting inspiration from the films I Married a Witch and Bell, Book and Candle. Saks had little to do with the series once production began. Those duties were shifted around a bit before chief director William Asher took over creative control for the show's eight seasons. Unable to settle on a deal with actress Tammy Grimes, Asher cast his wife Elizabeth Montgomery in the lead role as a real-life witch trying to live a life as a typical suburban housewife. Premiering in the Fall of 1964, Bewitched focused more on allegorical plotlines, substituting witchcraft for the tribulations of a mixed marriage. The "magic" actually took a back seat to standard "husband and wife" problems. The show was ABC's highest rated series and the second highest rated show across all three major networks, only bested by NBC's mighty Bonanza. By Season Three, head writer Danny Arnold and producer William Froug had left the production. William Asher became the default showrunner and took the comedy into a much more broad and slapstick direction, harkening back to what he learned as a sometimes director on I Love Lucy.
Season Three opened with the switch to episodes filmed in color. For a long time, only these episodes where broadcast in syndication. It was believed that audiences wouldn't watch reruns in black & white (despite the perennial popularity of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and even I Love Lucy). Nevertheless, Bewitched was as popular a show in reruns and it was in the beginning of its first run.
In recent viewings of my beloved Bewitched, I noticed something that eluded me as a child, adolescent and even as a young (unaware) adult. Bewitched exhibited a pretty shitty view of women and marriage. There is an overall attitude of mistrust between husband and wife. Every female client of Darrin's makes some sort of overt sexual advancement on him, despite his protests of being happily married. Male clients brought home (on an unusually regular basis) for dinner, often make unwanted moves on Samantha once Darrin has exited the room to make drinks. Even her firm pleas of "NO!" are met with chuckles and even more grabby attempts to violate Samantha's personal space. Endora, Samantha's overbearing mother, is constantly filling her daughter's mind with notions of an unfaithful Darrin (or "Derwood" as she often calls him). Larry Tate leers at female clients and secretaries and every other woman who shows up, while Serena makes suggestive small talk with Larry right in front of his wife (whether it be Irene Vernon or Kasey Rogers). Nobody trusts anyone. Everyone lies to cover up a misunderstanding that could otherwise be easily explained in a loving trusting relationship. I suppose in the 60s and 70s, infidelity and adultery was good fodder for sitcoms. The home audience seemed to respond favorably, as Bewitched ranked among the top shows on television for most of its entire run.
Ironically, Bewitched's demise was met at the hands of another TV comedy, one that addressed real-life problems like bigotry, racism and even sexuality. Once Bewitched was broadcast opposite the up-and-coming All in the Family, its fate was sealed. Bewitched was canceled at the end of its eighth season. (In reality, Elizabeth Montgomery wanted out after five seasons, hoping to ignite a film career based on her popularity. Instead, ABC threw a ton of money and other financial incentives her way in a proverbial "offer she couldn't refuse.")
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and women's rights in general, I find Bewitched difficult to watch now. The fashions and dialog notwithstanding, the show is dated. Very, very dated. Sure there are other shows that are just as dated, like Leave It to Beaver. But that show depicts a time of old fashioned family values, the benefits of a loyal friendship and morality. Bewitched evokes a time that we should really be embarrassed by — and I don't mean because of the wide neckties and overuse of the word "groovy."