THE ODD COUPLE

U.S. Situation Comedy

Although often positioned in the shadow of such ground-breaking series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family, The Odd Couple is one of the early examples of sophisticated, well-written, character-driven sitcoms that came to dominate the 1970s. Like M*A*S*H, it is also one of the few successful TV sitcoms to be based on material from another medium, in this case a successful Broadway play and film. Although critically acclaimed, it did not receive popular recognition until syndication.

Originally conceived by Neil Simon, who based the play on his brother Danny's true-life experience, The Odd Couple concept is best described in the one-sentence treatment Simon submitted to Paramount, who financed the stage play sight-unseen. "Two men--one divorced and one estranged and neither quite sure why their marriages fell apart--move in together to save money for alimony and suddenly discover they're having the same conflicts and fights they had in their marriages."

The Odd Couple, in all forms, is truly a popular culture phenomenon. Simon's wildly successful play ran from 1965 to 1967, and, as Rip Stock notes in his book Odd Couple Mania, it is most likely being produced right now by any number of community theater groups across the country. In 1968, the play was made into a successful film starring Walter Matthau as unkempt sports writer Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as anal-retentive commercial photographer Felix Unger. Naturally, Paramount wanted its TV division to cash in on this success; while Simon had signed away his TV rights, Paramount enlisted Dick Van Dyke Show alumni Gary Marshall and Jerry Belson to produce the series for television, which debuted on ABC in September 1970.

The sophisticated style and attention to character that Marshall and Belson had learned during their Dick Van Dyke days paid off, and The Odd Couple became one of TV's first relevant sitcoms, dealing with such issues as the generation gap and sex in an adult fashion. Of course, the primary focus was its characters. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall made for a perfect Oscar and Felix, and, indeed, have become more closely linked with their characters than their movie counterparts. While both actors won Emmy awards for their roles, the series failed to capture a wide audience. Third-place network ABC had little to lose by airing a marginal show, of course, and remained committed to the sitcom for five seasons before giving it the ax. The series, however, blossomed in syndication, appearing in major domestic and foreign markets to this day.

The names of those connected with the series, both on and off screen, reads like a Who's Who of television. Producer Gary Marshall used the respect he had gained from the series to create such less respectable programs as Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley and Joanie Loves Chachi. Indeed, it was through his experience with The Odd Couple that Marshall learned a valuable lesson--in order to be a major hit, a show must have kid appeal, a formula Marshall soon had down to an art. While Marshall graduated to feature films, Jerry Belson remained in TV, eventually serving as co-producer and co-creator of The Tracy Ullman Show.

Klugman, after his first of several bouts with throat cancer, returned to his dramatic roots by starring in NBC's Quincy. Randall moved over to MTM to star in The Tony Randall Show, as well as the critically acclaimed NBC series Love, Sidney. Penny Marshall, Gary's sister, launched her acting career as Oscar Madison's whining secretary Myrna Turner (a name which rhymed when she pronounced it in her heavy New York accent).

The Odd Couple has enjoyed a number of spin-offs, which included an animated version in 1975 featuring a neat cat and a sloppy dog. In 1982, Jerry Belson revived the series for prime time, featuring African American actors Ron Glass and Demond Wilson in the Felix and Oscar roles. Using many of the same plots from the original episodes, The New Odd Couple lasted only one season. In 1992, Klugman and Randall reprised their roles in a special two-hour reunion episode. Given the American public's captivation with the series, it is likely that further versions will continue to surface.

-Michael B. Kassel


The Odd Couple

CAST (1970-1975)

Felix Unger ...............................................Tony Randall Oscar Madison........................................ Jack Klugman Murray Greshner.......................................... Al Molinaro Speed (1970-1974).................................. Garry Walberg Vinnie...................................................... Larry Gelman Roger (1973-1974)...................................... Archie Hahn Roy (1970-1971).................................... Ryan McDonald Cecily Pigeon (1970-1971)........................ Monica Evans Gwendolyn Pigeon (1970-1971).................... Carol Shelly Dr. Nancy Cunningham (1970-1972)........... Joan Hotchkis Gloria Unger (1971-1975)........................... Janis Hansen Blanche Madison...................................... Brett Somers Myrna Turner (1971-1975)....................... Penny Marshall Miriam Welby (1972-1974)....................... Elinor Donahue

CAST (1982-1983)

Felix Unger................................................... Ron Glass Oscar Madison...................................... Demond Wilson Murray ......................................................John Schuck Speed.................................................... Christipher Joy Roy....................................................... Bart Braverman Cecily Pigeon .......................................Sheila Anderson Gwendolyn Pigeon............................... Ronalda Douglas Maria............................................................ Liz Torres Mona........................................ Jo Marie Payton-France

PRODUCERS      Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Harvey Miller, Sheldon Keller, Tony Marshall, Phil Mishkin

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 114 Episodes

ABC
September 1970-January 1971          Thursday 9:30-10:00 January 1971-June 1973                       Friday 9:30-10:00 June 1973-January 1974                         Friday 8:30-9:00 January 1974-September 1974              Friday 9:30-10:00 September 1974-January 1975            Thursday 8:00-8:30 January 1975-July 1975                        Friday 9:30-10:00 October 1982-February 1983                   Friday 8:30-9:00 May 1983                                              Friday 8:00-8:30 May 1983-June 1983                          Thursday 8:30-9:00

FURTHER READING

Gross, Edward A. The 25th Anniversary Odd Couple Companion: Still Odd After All These Years. Las Vegas, Nevada: Pioneer, 1989.

Marc, David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time Prime Movers: From I Love Lucy to L.A. Law--America's Greatest TV Shows and the People Who Created Them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

Stock, Rip. Odd Couple Mania. New York: Ballantine, 1983.

 

See also Comedy, Domestic Settings; Randall, Tony