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Friday, October 07, 2011

TGIF: Bewitched

It's absolutely amazing how some shows tend to 'borrow' ideas from other shows. I mean, we see it all the time in movies. In the last few years alone, we've seen remakes of dozens of movies including The Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, Psycho, Arthur, and coming soon, Dirty Dancing and Footloose will be remade for a 21st century audience.

Can someone explain to me why this is the case? I mean, has Hollywood completely run out of original ideas lately?

Even on television shows, we see new television shows being made that seem suspiciously familiar to other shows that have aired on television. Saved By The Bell, Hang Time, and City Guys had the same production team, so it wasn't uncommon to see those shows sharing the exact same recycled scripts. It was like they crossed out Zack Morris' name and substituted Sly Winkle's. That's how similar the scripts were. I've heard people say that Hannah Montana is a poorly imitated live-action version of Jem and the Holograms. And, don't even get me started on the revamped versions of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210.

The worst is when television shows are remade into motion picture form, because more often than not, they turn out to be a huge disaster. Okay, sure, both The Simpsons Movie and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut were quite successful at the box office. And, I'll admit to liking the 1991 Addams Family movie very much. But, then you had remakes of The Brady Bunch, Starsky & Hutch, and The Dukes Of Hazzard, and honestly, I'm just left scratching my head. I even hear that they're supposed to be remaking Baywatch in motion picture form.

I wouldn't mind this so much if this practice was used sparingly, and if the movies did the shows that they were based on justice. I singled out The Addams Family movie because I grew up watching reruns of the television show, and thought that the movie was well-written and brilliantly cast. I still think that Anjelica Huston was a fantastic Morticia. And, you know, later on in this blog, expect to see an Addams Family entry.

It just won't be today.

No, I'm going to talk about a television show that was actually made into a movie in the year 2005. The movie adaptation starred both Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. Two people with obvious star power who have both had dozens of movies to their credit. And I honestly do believe that both actors tried their best with the material they were given to work with. But, sadly, the movie based on the television show bombed at the box office, with critics saying that it was a terrible idea from the beginning, and only holds a 24% approval rating on the movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes. That's not a great rating.

Of course, the movie wasn't all that great to begin with. At the very least, they didn't entirely remake the show. Rather, they sort of made the plot about a remake of the show, which in hindsight sounded just as bad. But, fear not. We will not be discussing the film, which the New York Times called 'an unmitigated disaster'.

No, we'll talk about the television show instead.

Continuing on with the spirit of Witches and Wizards week, today's topic is the classic television show, Bewitched, which debuted on ABC in September 1964. The show starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the main character of the show, Samantha, who happened to be a witch. Although having the appearance of a beautiful young woman in her twenties, she very well could have been hundreds of years old, being that witches generally lived a lot longer than that of mortals.

It's actually quite interesting to note that the show Bewitched was a bit ahead of its time. Certainly in the year 2011, people dating people of different races, religious backgrounds, and economic backgrounds is nothing unusual. Back in the 1960s, however, things were much more conservative in nature.

Bewitched kind of tackled the subject of 'mixed marriage' as best as they could in the 1960s, and although there was only so much that television could get away with back in those days, they handled it quite well.

As anyone who has seen the show knows, one of the main conflicts involved Samantha's marriage to Darrin Stephens (played by two different actors, but we'll get to that a little later). Darrin was a mortal who worked at an advertising agency, and Samantha was a witch. When the two fell in love and got married, Samantha made a pledge to forsake her witchcraft to become a suburban housewife. Samantha's family strongly disapproves of the 'mixed marriage' between mortal and witch, and like those nagging in-laws that will not go away, they interfere in the marriage of Darrin and Samantha in more ways than one. Considering that the show ran until July 1, 1972, that's eight seasons of meddling!

Despite Samantha's pledge that she made, Samantha is often seen performing magic. Unlike most other witches who use magic wands and cauldrons, Samantha managed to cast spells with just a twitch of her nose.

And in a lot of cases, the episodes of Bewitched usually had Samantha's magic powers causing a whole lot of problems. It mostly dealt with Samantha struggling to keep her powers from being discovered by other mortals that were not Darrin, but sometimes Darrin himself would find himself the unwilling guinea pig to some of Samantha's spells.

As I explained earlier, Samantha's family is largely opposed to her marriage to Darrin, but the one member of the family who seems to be the most opposed was Samantha's mother, Endora (played by Agnes Moorehead). Endora reportedly hated Darrin so much that she very rarely ever so much as referred to him by his real name. She would call him 'Dum-Dum', 'Darwin', or just plain 'Whatsisname'. She would frequently cast spells on Darrin (though not malicious enough to actually destroy him) in every effort to break up the marriage of Darrin and Samantha, but their love wins out every time. Other relatives who have interfered in the marriage have included Samantha's cousin Serena (in a dual role played by Montgomery), who frequently tries to seek attention from Darrin, as well as Darrin's boss. There's also Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde), who plays pranks quite often, but isn't nearly as cold to Darrin as some of Samantha's other family members. Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) is also a relative that seems to treat Darrin fondly, but because of her klutzy, absent-minded behaviour, her spells usually end up going wrong on some level.

During the course of the series, Samantha and Darrin ended up having two children together. They have a daughter, Tabitha, in the second season of the series, and towards the end of the show have a son, Adam. Both children seem to have supernatural powers, and in 1977, Tabitha was given a spin-off, showing her as a young woman (who was played by Knots Landing actress and singer Lisa Hartman).

The show was also known for having several cast changes. Certainly, Tabitha was recast at least four times. By 1966, the role was assumed by twins Diane and Erin Murphy, but two years later, Erin became the sole Tabitha, as Diane and Erin began to look a little less identical (though Diane did fill in for Erin on a couple of episodes when she was ill.

Other roles that were recast on the show included neighbour Gladys Kravitz (the original actress passed away from cancer in March 1966), Louise Tate (the actress reportedly left to take care of an ailing husband), and Frank Stephens.

Of course, the most memorable recast on the show was that of Darrin Stephens. It was very rare for a show to recast one of the main players of a television sitcom, especially back in those days, but in the case of Bewitched, the producers really did have no choice.

When Dick York was first cast as Darrin Stephens, he had a problem with his back. Five years before Bewitched debuted, he was involved in a serious accident while he was filming scenes for the 1959 movie They Came To Cordura. The accident left York with a severely damaged back. For the first four seasons of the show, York managed to work around his chronic back condition, but by season five, the damage had caught up to him. He frequently suffered from back spasms on set, and many of his scenes had to be rewritten so that Darrin didn't have to move around set much (mostly his scenes were shot in bed or on the sofa. By the beginning of 1969, the pain proved to be too great for York, and after an incident where he passed out from the pain and was rushed to the hospital for treatment, York had no choice but to leave the program following the conclusion of filming for the show's fifth season.

His replacement came at the beginning of season six, and Dick Sargent played the role until the show's cancellation in the summer of 1972. Of course, the replacement of Darrin proved to get tongues wagging over which Darrin was considered to be the better Darrin. Almost 40 years after Bewitched aired its last episode, the debate still rages on today. I really have no opinion, as I thought both Dick S. and Dick Y. did a wonderful job in the role, but I guarantee you that there are some people who would get into flame wars over this very subject.

On a sad note, it is hard to believe that most of the cast of Bewitched is no longer alive. Bernard Fox (who played Dr. Bombay) is still alive, and of course, you can find Erin Murphy making guest appearances at events put on by TV Land. But most of the other ones passed away. Dick York ended up developing an addiction to painkillers as a result of his back injury, and succumbed to emphysema in February 1992. Dick Sargent passed away from prostate cancer on July 8, 1994. And Elizabeth Montgomery lost her battle with colorectal cancer just eight weeks after being diagnosed, on May 18, 1995.

Although, you can't help but wonder what all three of them would think of the dismal remake of their high-rated show if all three of them were still alive today. For all I know, they may very well have given their blessing. In fact, it's all possible that they may have liked it.

But no remake could ever replace the magic that the original show had.


  1. One of my favorite TV shows of all time!

  2. Hi, Mark! Bewitched is a great show! Unfortunately, I wasn't around when the show first aired on television, but thanks to cable channels airing classics in their afternoon slots, I got to enjoy this show as well! I just hope that I did it justice.