KATE AND ALLIE

U.S. Domestic Comedy

Kate and Allie, which ran on CBS from 19 March 1984 to 22 May 1989, was the brainchild of Sherry Coben who came up with the idea for the series while attending a high school reunion. There she noticed that a couple of divorcees who seemed unhappy and dissatisfied found comfort in sharing with each other. Coben worked with this germinal notion and successfully pitched the resulting script, originally entitled, "Two Mommies," to Michael Ogiens, then head of New York program development at CBS. Ogiens liked the script because it contained fresh material that dealt with a real issue of the day--single parenthood.

The next step in the series' genesis was the location of actresses for the central roles. Susan Saint James was, at the time, under contract to CBS. Though she was best known for romantic comedy, she liked the script and the part of Kate McArdle but stipulated her demands--production before a live audience and a New York shooting location. Saint James' close friend Jane Curtin was soon convinced to accept the part of Allie Lowell. Producer-director-writer Bill Persky agreed to produce and direct six episodes, without committing to an entire series. He also insisted that Bob Randall be brought on board as producer/writer and supervisor. Reeves Communications, with executive producers, Mort Lachman and Merrill Grant, undertook production of Kate and Allie, and the series debuted with a script by Coben which sets the series' premise: two divorced women who have known one another since childhood decide to move in together and raise their three children as a family unit--at least temporarily.

Kate and Allie was an instant success, ranking fourth the week it debuted, garnering consistently high ratings thereafter, and earning Jane Curtin two consecutive Emmys and Bill Persky, one. The characters and the issues they dealt with obviously appealed to the program's audience.

Saint James' character, Kate, is a woman recently divorced from her unstable and somewhat flighty part-time actor husband, Max. She has one daughter, 14-year-old Emma (Ari Meyers). Curtin's Allie is also recently divorced from her successful, but unfaithful doctor husband, Charles. She has a 14-year-old daughter Jennie (Allison Smith) and a seven-year-old son, Chip (Frederick Koehler). Neither Kate nor Allie have ruled out remarriage but view their new situation as a provisional reprieve, a time for both women to come to know and appreciate themselves. On one level the series dealt with practical problems faced by divorced women with children: adjusting to a new lifestyle and to living closely with new people, dealing with children's issues, beginning to date again, securing financial stability.

On another level, however, the series deals with the larger issue of gender identity at a time when gender roles were in transition. Allie Lowell has submerged her own identity in that of her husband and most of the series' trajectory tracks her journey toward autonomy. Kate McArdle, on the other hand, has a stronger sense of her own identity, but must constantly struggle for equality at work and for the assurance that her goals will be respected in any love relationship.

Key to the series' notion of women's development is same-sex friendship, and each episode is narratively structured to highlight the long-term, supportive friendship between the two main characters. Episodes begin with a conversation between Kate and Allie designed to enhance the audience's understanding of both women or to provide backstory. Similarly, each episode ends with Kate and Allie discussing and bringing closure to the events just depicted. Their verbal intimacy both reflects and heightens their sustaining friendship. As the series evolved the same kind of supportive friendship developed between the two daughters who initially disliked being forced together.

After directing one hundred episodes and having Allie accept the wedding proposal of likable character Bob Barsky, Bill Persky left the series, feeling that Kate and Allie had now fulfilled its premise. The needed respite had worked for Allie, who was now able to enter a meaningful heterosexual relationship as a fully autonomous individual, sure of herself and of her own goals. While Kate still had not met a man whose life goals matched her own, she and Allie owned a successful business, and the audience was sure that she would not succumb to a marriage which downplayed her personal desires.

Despite these developments, the series continued. Linda Day became the director with Anne Flett and Chuck Ranberg as producers, but the new team did not meet with the same success as had the first. The decline of Kate and Allie illustrates an interesting aspect of television's capabilities in combining socio-cultural issues with particular narrative strategies. With the series' premise fulfilled, plots lacked the same objective and lost the relevance and vitality of earlier episodes. In part to address this situation, early in the new season the writers created a device to bring the two women together again: Kate moved out of the old apartment and in with Allie and Bob--who accepted a sportscasting job that would take him away on weekends. By this time, however, Emma was out of the series, ostensibly away studying, and though Jennie remained an active and visible character, she too had moved out of the household to live in a university dorm. The friendship between Kate and Allie lost its earlier dynamism now that Allie was married. Kate appeared as an intrusion into the household rather than a necessary part of it. Even though the series had not "solved" the social problems it addressed, its creators and performers had moved the main characters into a narrative situation that no longer seemed a workable fiction. After its sixth season, the series was not renewed.

-Christine R. Catron


Kate and Allie

CAST

Kate McArdle.................................Susan Saint James
Allie Lowell
............................................... Jane Curtin
Emma McArdle
(1984-1988)........................ Ari Meyers
Chip Lowell
...................................... Frederick Koehler
Jennie Lowell
......................................... Allison Smith
Charles Lowell
(1984-1986)......................... Paul Hecht
Ted Bartelo
(1984-1985, 1987-1988)...... Gregory Salata
Bob Barsky
(1987-1989)............................ Sam Freed
Lou Carello
(1988-1989).......................... Peter Onorati

PRODUCERS Bob Randall, Mort Lachman, Merrill Grant, Bill Persky, Anne Flett, Chuck Ranberg

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 122 Episodes

CBS
March 1984-May 1984                     Monday 9:30-10:00 August 1984-September 1986          Monday 9:30-10:00 September 1986-September 1987      Monday 8:00-8:30 September 1987-November 1987        Monday 8:30-9:00 December 1987-June 1988                Monday 8:00-8:30
July 1988-August 1988                    Saturday 8:00-8:30 August 1988-September 1988            Monday 9:00-9:30 December 1988-March 1989              Monday 8:30-9:00 March 1989-June 1989                  Monday 10:30-11:00 June 1989-September 1989               Monday 8:00-8:30

FURTHER READING

Brown, M. E., editor. Television and Women's Culture: The Politics of the Popular. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1990.

Horowitz, S. "Life with Kate & Allie--The Not-so-Odd Couple On TV." Ms. (New York), 1984.

Rabinovitz, L. "Sitcoms and Single Moms: Representations of Feminism on American TV." Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), 1989.

Shales, T. "Comedy with Class: The Creative Spark Behind CBS' Kate & Allie." The Washington (D.C.) Post, 19 March 1984.

Spigel, L., and D. Mann, editors. Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

 

See also Comedy, Domestic Settings; Curtin, Jane; Gender and Television