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Monday, January 02, 2006

Since rural humor was so successful with the "Hillbillies", why not beat it to death? Hence, along came "Gomer Pyle, USMC" and "Green Acres" soon to be followed by "Petticoat Junction". Gomer was a character spun off from the "The Andy Griffith Show". He was the marine bumpkin who was always terrorizing his nemesis, Sergeant Carter, in this popular entry. "Green Acres" was the opposite of "The Beverly Hillbillies" as it placed city slickers in the country with the expected hilarious results. "Petticoat Junction" followed the antics of the townsfolk of Hooterville, USA.
Other gimmick ridden shows were "My Favorite Martian" which seemed like a takeoff of the "Francis", the talking mule movies. As Francis would only talk to Peter Sterling (Donald O'Connor), Uncle Martin (Ray Walston) would only let Tim O'Hara (Bill Bixby) know of his Martian powers. "Bewitched" capitalized on Samantha's powers of witchcraft to create laughs at husband Darrin's expense (no wonder he needed all those martinis!). "I Dream of Jeannie" used a similar scenario with Jeannie (lovely Barbara Eden) using her powers with her "master" (Larry Hagman).
There was macabre humor with "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters" and slapstick hung in there with "Gilligan's Island" and "McHale's Navy". Family humor was alive with "Dennis the Menace", "Leave it to Beaver", and the ever sweet "The Donna Reed Show".
If you were cognizant at the time of these programs, you well remember the inanity of most of them, but they did provide some innocent fun in the early to mid part of the decade. Like the music of the time, television comedy was coming out of the innocence of the 1950's bringing with it a bit of carryover from those times.
By the mid to latter part of the decade, occurrences like racial strife, the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, plus the war in Viet Nam were causing changes in music and television. Leaving the scene was much of the youthful innocence of the early part of the decade and replacing it was programming of shows that dealt more with the realities of life than gimmickry. "I Spy" had its debut in 1965 and introduced a more subtle type of humor than had been the norm. It also was the first major series to have a black actor (Bill Cosby) as one of its stars. Following this breakthrough was "Julia" starring Diahann Carroll as a nurse working for a white doctor (Lloyd Nolan). It was the first show with a black female actor in an important lead role, not that of a second lead or domestic position. "Julia" ran from 1968-1971 and, while not a show with great story content, it represented, like "I Spy", an important breakthrough for blacks on television. Following close behind was "Room 222" with Lloyd Haines as a black teacher, and "The Mod Squad", about a trio of undercover cops with Clarence Williams III in one of the starring roles.

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