Fools (and TV Executives) Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

Angels are beings sent by God to reveal truth, offer protection, and guide Christians.  Apparently, television angels have a different mission. Their message is that shows about angels have low ratings, little creativity, and fly off the air quickly. Looking at the shows I researched for this week’s blog, only 1 of 8 lasted more than 33 episodes.  Eliminating that one from the line up leaves the shows’ average episodes at 17 each.  I’m not sure why these shows didn’t do better.  Some of them feature well-known celebrities. I will admit before I researched this topic, I not only had never watched any of these shows, I don’t remember ever hearing about any of them before. Angels seem to fare better in movies: The Bishop’s Wife, Heaven Can Wait, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I Married an Angel, It’s a Wonderful Life, Michael, and The Preacher’s Wife. Let’s look at these sitcoms about angels.

Angel – 1961 (33 episodes)

Ok, admittedly this show is about an “Angel” just not an “angelic being.” French born Angel Smith (Annie Farge) is married to John Smith, an architect (Marshall Thompson) in New York City. She tries to cope with her new country and married life. Her bad grasp of the English language causes her a lot of problems. While the show did point out some of the craziness of our English language like when she tries to learn to pronounce words bough, dough, cough, and through and none of them sound the same.  However, it does get a bit tiresome after a while.

She was a French Lucille Ball. The couple even had best friends played by Doris Singleton and Don Keefer who functioned as Fred and Ethel. No surprise because this show was produced by Jessie Oppenheimer. I have mentioned in previous blogs that Oppenheimer had various shows but all with the same formula.

The show opened with a cute animation sequence of Angel walking around the Eiffel Tower and over to the Statue of Liberty.  I think their living room is the same set as The Dick Van Dyke Show which started in 1961, about the same time this one was cancelled.

Eventually Farge went back to France to pursue acting there. I would have not watched this show when it was originally on, because it was on at the same time as Bachelor Father and My Three Sons.

 

Smothers Brothers Show – 1965 (32 episodes)

Created by Aaron Spelling, (Family, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Beverly Hills 90210), it was also known as My Brother the Angel. Often confused with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, this show has Tommy drowned at sea. He returns to LA as an apprentice angel and lives in his brother Dick’s bachelor pad. His brother is an up and coming executive with a publishing firm. Tommy is supposed to help people in trouble.  He is inept and Dick often has to help him complete his assignments, so he can become a full-fledged angel. One of my favorite things about 60s movies and tv shows were the beginning animation segments.  On this show, the brothers have a dialogue about what the mission is, and then their animation sequence kicks in. This was the last CBS sitcom filmed entirely in black and white. This show was not cancelled per se.  The brothers decided to switch over to the variety format that they would become known for.

Good Heavens – 1975 (13 episodes)

Carl Reiner plays an angel dressed in a business suit. He would come to earth weekly to grant one wish. One episode featured real-life couple Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall; he was a sporting goods salesman who wanted to be a pro ball player. In other shows a woman who was trying to decide between two boyfriends got a new one combining the best traits of both, and in another show, an unsuccessful author got everyone to publish his book.

It was cancelled after only 3 months. Considering it was only on for 13 episodes, it did not lack stars.  A sampling of guest stars include Sid Caesar, Susan Dey, Sandy Duncan, Nancy Dussault, Dick Gautier, Florence Henderson, Dean Jones, Alex Karras, Sue Ane Langdon, Julie Newmar, Loretta Swit, Brenda Vaccaro, and Fred Willard.

 

Out of the Blue – 1979 (12 episodes)

Stand-up comedian Jimmy Brogan plays Random, an angel dispatched to earth to live with a busy Chicago woman Marion Richards (Dixie Carter). She is raising a bunch of nieces and nephews after their parents were killed in a plane crash, including sports lover Chris, 16 (Clark Brandon), TV/movie addict Laura, 13 (Olivia Barash), tomboy Stacey, 10 (Tammy Lauren), and 8-year old twins Jason (Jason Keller) and Shane (Shane Keller). Gladys (Hannah Dean) was their housekeeper. Eileen Heckart played Random’s guardian angel, Boss Angel.

Random moves in as a boarder, and only the kids know he is really an angel. Random loved the Cubs, told jokes, and played the guitar. He had powers to move things and people around. In the premier episode, Robin Williams, as Mork, had a role.

By the 70s, the cute animation openings were over and some of the worst theme songs ever were aired in this decade.  This one could probably compete in that category with its ensemble singing “Out of the Blue” showing all the characters.

The biggest controversy about this show is whether it was a cross-over or a spin-off, and even if that is agreed upon, then you have to decide which show gets the credit.  Apparently, Random was on an episode of Happy Days where Chachi lost his soul, and Random helps him get it back.  The catch was the show was filmed earlier but did not air until after the first episode of Out of the Blue aired.  On the pilot of Out of the Blue, Robin Williams appeared as Mork, but he wasn’t in the entire show, so it could be a spin-off of Mork and Mindy.  Then, you have to consider that Mork and Mindy was a spinoff of Happy Days.  Confused yet?  Me too.

The Gary Coleman Show – 1982 (13 episodes)

This one was an animated show based on the character Gary played the the movie, The Kid with the Broken Halo.  He is angel Andy LeBeau who is allowed to come to earth to talk to other kids about their problems. It aired Saturday mornings and each 30-minute show had two 15-minute segments.

 

Down to Earth – 1984 (106 episodes)

angeldowntoearth1

This show, which lasted three years, was set in 1925.  Ethel MacDoogan (Carol Mansell) was run over by a trolley. She’s a flapper waiting in heaven for a chance to help a family and earn her wings. Ethel died in 1925 and had to wait 60 years for a family to help.  (Apparently there is a lot of red tape waiting for us in heaven too.) The Preston family is where she is sent. So, now she is on earth but her mind set is still stuck in 1925, and the new inventions and cultural changes are hard for her to adapt to.

The Preston family is played by Steven Johnson, David Kaufman (who dropped out of UCLA to take the role), Kyle Richards, Randy Josselyn, and later Dick Sargent. If you don’t remember this one, it might be because it only aired on TBS. Mr. Preston is a realtor, and his wife has passed away.  His son Jay Jay is the one who prayed for Ethel, and he is the only one who knows she is an angel. Her heavenly bosses are also watching her and criticizing her failures.  Eventually she accomplishes her mission, but loves the Prestons so much she makes an agreement to stay with them and help her heavenly bosses with other earthly missions nearby.

During the show’s run, Steven Johnson left the show and was replaced by Dick Sargent.  Ironically, Dick Sargent replaced Dick York on Bewitched also. If 70s theme songs were bad, the 80s featured songs that insulted your ears.  This one ranks right up there with All in the Family for me.

I’m not sure if David Kaufman ever regretted dropping out of school or ever finished his degree, but he did go on to a long and successful career, as did Carol Mansell.

 

Heavens to Betsy – 1994 (1 episode)

One of the shortest shows ever, this one-episode feature starred Dolly Parton. She played a arrogant diva who died and was trying to earn her wings to get into heaven. This was the first show to be produced by Disney for television. Originally, it was supposed to debut in the fall of 1994, but the executives delayed the airing, wanting better punch lines.  Then it was set to be a mid-season replacement for 1995, but that never materialized either. Some of the script from this pilot made it into a 1996 Dolly Parton TV movie with Roddy McDowell, Unlikely Angel.

Teen Angel – 1997 (17 episodes)

Ok, believe it or not, the synopsis of this one is “after eating a six-month-old hamburger, Marty DePolo (Mike Damus) dies and God’s cousin, Rod, appoints him to be his best friend’s guardian angel.” Steve Beauchamp finds an old burger under his bed and dares his best friend Steve to eat it. After Marty dies, he comes back to earth as Steve’s guardian angel. Maureen McCormick played Steve’s mother but left part way through the series. (Considering the entire show only had 17 episodes, she apparently didn’t stick around too long). Marty talked to the TV audience like George Burns does in the Burns and Allen Show.

The show was part of the TGIF line up ABC had Friday nights.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch returned in 1997, and Teen Angel along with You Wish joined the schedule.  Teen Angel lasted 30% longer than You Wish which only aired 12 episodes.

Included in the cast was Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Pam, Ron Glass as Rod, and Jerry Van Dyke as Steve’s grandpa. It only lasted one year.

If you are an aspiring script writer out there, a television show about an angel is destined to be successful sooner or later.  I would watch a comedy about an angel coming to earth, but I don’t think I would watch any of these shows about an angel coming to earth.  What’s the cliche they always say: ninth time is the charm. I’ll be waiting.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fools (and TV Executives) Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

  1. Why was The Smothers Brothers Show known as 2 different titles? Doesn’t seem like great branding.

    I totally agree about movies with angels faring much better. However, I am disappointed that you didn’t name 2 sports movies with angels that I enjoyed growing up! One was called The 6th Man about 2 brothers who played basketball and the other was Angels in the Outfield. Classic one of course.

    Also, Angel by Shaggy is one of my go to karaoke songs.

    Like

    • Sorry I missed Angel in the Outfield. I have never heard of The Sixth Man.

      There are a handful of shows that change their name when they go into syndication and a few in the 50s that just changed the name in the middle of the show’s life. In this case, I think it was to avoid confusion with their variety show.
      Listing song titles might take longer than my original blog. It seems that there are a lot of hit songs with “Angel” in the title. I’ll stick to writing and perhaps you can come up with a karaoke soundtrack with a song that fits each blog topic.

      Like

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