The Odd Couple (1970 TV series)
The Odd Couple, formally titled onscreen Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, is an American television situation comedy broadcast from September 24, 1970, to March 7, 1975, on ABC. It stars Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison, and was the first of several sitcoms developed by Garry Marshall for Paramount Television. The show is based on the 1965 play of the same name, which was written by Neil Simon, as well as on the play's 1968 film adaptation. Felix and Oscar are both divorced. They share a Manhattan apartment, and their different lifestyles inevitably lead to conflicts and laughs.
|The Odd Couple|
Title card from the first season (note the Neil Simon credit in the title).
|Based on||The Odd Couple by Neil Simon|
|Theme music composer||Neal Hefti|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||114 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Garry Marshall|
|Running time||30 minute episode (including commercials)|
|Production company(s)||Paramount Television|
|Distributor||Paramount Television Sales|
CBS Television Distribution
|Original release||September 24, 1970 –|
March 7, 1975
In 1997, the episodes "Password" and "The Fat Farm" were ranked No. 5 and No. 58, respectively, on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. The show received three nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Its fourth season, from 1973–74, remains the most recent nominee for a show that aired during a Friday time slot.
The success of the 1968 film version of the stage play of The Odd Couple, which starred Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar, catalyzed production of the television show. Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam were also considered for the part of Oscar and Dean Martin and Art Carney for Felix (Carney had originated the role on Broadway).
Eventually Tony Randall (as Felix) and Jack Klugman (as Oscar) were hired. Both had starred in different productions of the play. Randall, who was hired first, had still wanted Mickey Rooney to play Oscar. The show's co-executive producer, Garry Marshall, had to lobby hard to get Klugman successfully hired. Once the casting was in place, the show's writers (Marshall, Jerry Belson, Jerry Paris, Bob Brunner, Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz, among others) came up with a multitude of situations for Felix and Oscar to be in, while staying true to the soul of the play, which always reverted to the human tensions between the two that created the comic situations.
The show premiered September 24, 1970 on ABC. The first season was filmed using the single-camera method and a laugh track, utilizing the same apartment set featured in the 1968 film version. Klugman and Randall both expressed displeasure with using a laugh track without a live audience. Co-creator/executive producer Garry Marshall also disliked the practice; theatre veteran Randall particularly resented the process of having to wait several seconds between punchlines in order to allot enough space for the laughter to be inserted. The production team eventually experimented with omitting the laugh track altogether for Season One's 21st episode, "Oscar's New Life" (laughter was subsequently added for syndication in order to maintain continuity). By the second season, ABC relented, and the show was filmed with three cameras and performed like a stage play in front of a live studio audience, with laugh sweetening completed during post-production.
With an audience present, Randall and Klugman enjoyed the spontaneity that came with it; any missed or blown lines usually went by without stopping (they could always be re-filmed during post-production). In addition, it gave the show a certain edge that had been lost during the first season, although actors had to deliver lines more loudly, since they were on a larger sound stage, as opposed to a quiet studio with only minimal crew present.
Klugman later recalled, "We spent three days rehearsing the show. We sat around a table the first day. We tore the script apart. We took out all the jokes and put in character. The only reason we leave in any jokes is for the rotten canned laughter. I hated it. I watch the shows at home, I see Oscar come in and he says, 'Hi,' and there is the laughter. 'Hey,' I think, 'what the hell did I do?' I hate it; it insults the audience."
Throughout its run, The Odd Couple was juggled several times around ABC's programming schedule. The show struggled in the Nielsen ratings and was nearly canceled at the end of every season. However, ABC renewed the show for each upcoming season because the ratings for the summer reruns were high. In the final first-run episode, "Felix Remarries", Felix finally wins his ex-wife Gloria back and they remarry, as Oscar regains the freedom of living alone again. The final scene unfolds in this way, as the two say their goodbyes:
- Felix: Your dinner's in the oven; turn it off in 20 minutes. [pause] Oscar … what can I say? Five years ago you took me in: a broken man on the verge of … mental collapse. I leave here a cured human being. I owe it all to you. [gesturing toward apartment] It's all yours buddy. I salute you. [empties waste basket onto floor]
- Oscar: Felix, you know how I'm gonna salute you? I'm gonna clean that up.
- Felix: It has not been in vain.
- [They shake hands and Felix exits stage left through front door. After door closes …]
- Oscar: [swings his hand through the air] I'm not gonna clean that up. [exits stage right to bedroom to audience laughter]
- [Felix sneaks back in stage left and looks at floor]
- Felix: [disgustedly] I knew he wouldn't clean it up! [proceeds to pick up trash to audience applause] (fade out)
The 114 episodes went on to syndication and home video. There were some minor changes made in the development of the series. In both TV series and play, Felix's last name was spelled Unger but in the film it is spelled Ungar. In the stage play, Felix is a news writer for CBS (in the film he writes the news for "television"), while in the TV series he is a commercial photographer. (His slogan, which he is quick to vocalize, is "Portraits a specialty.") His wife is named Frances in the play and in the film, but is Gloria in the TV series.
Oscar has at least two children, including a son "Brucey", who are referred to but not seen in the play and the film. In the series, Oscar is childless. In the film and the play, Felix has a son and a younger daughter. In the series, the children's ages are reversed and they are named Leonard and Edna, after Tony Randall's real first name and his own sister's. During the first season, the show was shot on the same sets used for the movie, but the apartment layout was changed for the second season due to the switch to a three-camera setup and the addition of a studio audience.
The Pigeon Sisters (Monica Evans as Cecily and Carole Shelley as Gwendolyn, reprising their roles from the film and stage play) made four appearances during the first season. The Pigeon Sisters were never seen after that and were only occasionally mentioned later on. Oscar gained a steady girlfriend during that latter part of the first season and half of the second, Dr. Nancy Cunningham (played by Joan Hotchkis), an attractive doctor, whose colleague, Dr. Melnitz (played by Bill Quinn in several episodes), is a curmudgeonly and sarcastic physician who treats both Felix and Oscar. Felix also gained a girlfriend in the third season, Miriam Welby (played by Elinor Donahue), and they lasted into the fifth season, presumably breaking up before Felix remarried Gloria in the series finale. Christopher Shea appeared in three episodes of the first season as Philip, Felix and Oscar's 11-year-old neighbor. Oscar's occasional good-time girlfriend, "Crazy Rhoda Zimmerman", is often referred to but never appears onscreen.
The TV show also featured their ex-wives. Janis Hansen played Felix's ex-wife, Gloria (named Frances in the play and film) and Jack Klugman's real life wife Brett Somers as Blanche, Oscar's ex. (The couple separated in real life during the run of the show.) There were many episodes in which Felix felt he had made a mistake by not fighting harder for Gloria, and took comically drastic measures to try to win her back. In contrast, Oscar was quite happy to be divorced from Blanche, and she from him, as the two constantly traded sarcastic barbs. The only major drawback from Oscar's point of view was the alimony he was ordered to pay. Willie Aames and later Leif Garrett made a few appearances as Felix's son, Leonard. Pamelyn Ferdin and later Doney Oatman appeared as Felix's teenaged daughter, Edna.
The two other major supporting characters, Officer Murray Greshler, and Myrna Turner, Oscar's secretary, were played by Al Molinaro and Penny Marshall (Garry's sister) respectively. Alice Ghostley played Murray's wife Mimi in one episode of the first season when Felix quickly outstays his welcome after he moves out of Oscar's apartment following a falling-out. She appeared once in the second season as played by Jane Dulo. Garry Walberg, Ryan McDonald and Larry Gelman played Oscar's poker cronies Homer "Speed" Deegan, Roy, and the bald, bespectacled Vincent "Vinnie" Barella, rounding out the rest of the regulars. Ryan McDonald left the show after the seventh of the first season's eight episodes in which there was a poker game, and the character of Roy was mentioned after that, but never seen again.
Garry Walberg (who later appeared with Klugman on the series Quincy M.E.) as "Speed", and Larry Gelman as Vinnie, each made several scattered guest appearances after the first season. Richard Stahl appeared in nine episodes as, among other things, a pet-shop owner, a florist, a psychiatrist, and a non-denominational monk, never playing the same role twice. Actor Herbie Faye appeared five times on the series in different roles. Oscar's mother appeared in two different episodes, played once by Elvia Allman, and once by Jane Dulo, both veteran actresses.
Celebrity guest stars
The show often had celebrity guest stars, who reflected the cultural leanings either of Oscar or Felix, often playing themselves or occasionally fictional characters. For Oscar, country guitar legend Roy Clark played an old practical joke-playing friend, who nonetheless, has enormous musical talent, as even Felix acknowledges. Sportscaster Howard Cosell (2 episodes) and then ABC television producer Roone Arledge (1 episode) played themselves.
Pop singer Jaye P. Morgan played herself as one of Oscar's many girlfriends. For Felix, Marilyn Horne played a shy, mousy co-worker of Oscar (named "Jackie"). Opera singers Martina Arroyo and Richard Fredricks appeared as themselves, as did Edward Villella, Monty Hall, Richard Dawson, Wolfman Jack, David Steinberg, Hugh Hefner, Rodney Allen Rippy, John Simon, Bubba Smith, Deacon Jones, and Allen Ludden and Betty White (married in real life). In one episode, noted tennis frenemies and one-time real life competitors Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King appeared as themselves.
In one episode singer-songwriter Paul Williams appears when Felix's daughter Edna wants to run away to follow Williams on tour. (Williams dissuades her.) Dick Clark appeared as himself, a radio disc jockey who calls Oscar in a contest, where he wins a new car ("The New Car", episode 76). Neil Simon (the man who wrote the play for which the series is based on) makes an uncredited appearance in the fifth season episode ""Two on the Aisle".
- Jean Simmons, who played a visiting princess from the fictional European country of Liechtenberg (Peggy Rea played her lady-in-waiting), who meets Felix in a photography session but goes out on a date with Oscar, and he comes home bragging of a wonderful time. He proudly relates that the Princess had a wonderful time herself, and that "she knighted a wino".
- Pernell Roberts played a country music impresario to whom Oscar owes a lot of money in gambling debts, and who does NOT take IOUs.
- Jack Soo played Chinese wrestler Chuk Mai Chin.
- Reta Shaw played a tough retired Army Colonel, Claire Frost, who works as housekeeper when Oscar is sick and Felix is too busy. She hails from Bayonne, New Jersey and her domineering ways cause Oscar to derisively refer to her as "The Beast of Bayonne".
- Penny Marshall, who played Oscar's secretary, Myrna Turner, made her last appearance in an episode in which she married "Sheldn" (his legal name since the "o" was omitted from his birth certificate), played by Rob Reiner, Marshall's husband at the time. Marshall's real-life brother and sister, Garry and Ronnie played Myrna's siblings, Werner Turner and Verna Turner, in the same episode.
- Victor Buono, as the eccentric new manager of the building in which Felix and Oscar live, who loves plants but hates people, and an "exorcist" in an episode inspired by the film The Exorcist (1973) in which the boys think their apartment is haunted.
- Albert Brooks, as Rudy, a pretentious and libidinous photographer colleague of Felix (in two episodes in the show's first season)
- William Redfield as Felix's brother Floyd Unger, owner of Unger Gum in Buffalo, New York.
Awards and nominations
During its original run the show had mediocre ratings at best (the show was never among the Top 30 programs on the Nielsen ratings list during its entire run). Nonetheless, both actors were nominated for Emmy Awards in each year of the show's run. Jack Klugman won two Emmy Awards for his work (in 1971 and 1973), and Tony Randall won an Emmy as well (in 1975, in which, upon acceptance of the award, he commented on the fact that he wished he "had a job", since the show had recently been cancelled).
Klugman was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1972 and won one in 1974. The show itself was also nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in the years 1971, 1972 and 1974. To date, these are the last Emmy nominations to a sitcom airing on a Friday night.
Opening narration and credit sequence
"On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (Unger's unseen wife slams door, only to reopen it and angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"
This opening narration was featured during the show's first and second seasons (in the U.S. DVD release, it is also used in the third season set). It was narrated by voice actor Bill Woodson. The "childhood friend" reference was only used during the first season and was later changed to simply "friend" (in fact, the "childhood friend" reference was added partway through the first season, as the fourth episode explains that Felix and Oscar met during jury duty. And, in a 1973 episode, the two were in the Army together, with Felix being Oscar's superior, at the time Oscar and wife Blanche (Brett Somers) married. There was a flashback episode where Blanche and Oscar lived in the apartment Oscar now shares with Felix. Such inconsistencies in continuity were common for the show). Also, "sometime earlier" was changed to "several years earlier" followed by Madison's wife throwing him out, requesting that he never return.
The opening credit sequence consisted of Felix and Oscar in various humorous situations around New York City such as cavorting around a Maypole. In later seasons, the opening sequence featured highlights from past episodes mixed with the previous footage. The closing credit sequences for the first four years of the show consisted of more of the duo's zany antics or a scene where Felix meets Oscar by a big fountain in New York City's Columbus Circle: Oscar throws a cigar butt in the fountain, Felix barks at him to pick it up, and Oscar scoops it up with his shoe then places the wet and soiled cigar butt in Felix's pocket. Towards the end of the introduction title sequence the duo can be seen sitting on a park bench at W58th and 5th Ave in front of the Grand Army Plaza Monuments, Pulitzer Fountain, where Oscar throws his lunch wrapper on the ground and Felix beckons him to pick it up. In later seasons, another clip was incorporated into the credits (a re-taping of a scene from an actual episode) in which Oscar washes his hands in the kitchen sink and begins to dry them on the curtains; Felix protests this, and so Oscar instead dries his hands on Felix' shirt. For the final season, the credits were shown against a blue background.
Related appearances by Klugman and Randall
Over the years, Klugman and Randall appeared in many television commercials and public service announcements for several different products as Felix and Oscar, including 1972 ads for Yoplait yogurt (Klugman later appeared in commercials without Randall for the product in the early 1980s); in 1974, for the game Challenge Yahtzee; for a while, their likenesses also appeared on the game's packaging, with the slogan "You play your way—I'll play mine!"; in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Klugman and Randall reprised their Odd Couple characters in a series of commercials for Eagle Snacks, although in some of these spots they called each other by their real names.
Klugman and Randall also reprised their roles as Felix and Oscar in several regional productions of the original Neil Simon play. They toured in the play during the TV version's summertime off-season in the early to mid-1970s; they later appeared in several performances of the play during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1997, they appeared in a Broadway revival of the Simon play, The Sunshine Boys.
In the early 1980s, while starring in the NBC drama Quincy, M.E., Klugman appeared in TV commercials for Canon copiers. Minolta countered by hiring Randall, then on the NBC sitcom Love, Sidney, to do a commercial for that company's copiers where he channeled his Felix role, mentioning that he "can change copy colors without getting that disgusting black powder all over my hands!" He closed by saying "But that doesn't mean I'm a neat freak. Of course, I'm not a slob, either, like, uh... " and waved his hand, to suggest Klugman as Oscar.
Randall and Klugman reunited for the 1993 television movie, The Odd Couple: Together Again to a mixed reception. Klugman had lost a vocal cord to throat cancer and this real-life struggle was written into the script. In the film, Felix tries to help Oscar recover following surgery; he also becomes overly involved in his daughter Edna's upcoming wedding, much to her and Gloria's (Barbara Barrie) dismay.
An ABC cartoon version of The Odd Couple premiered on September 6, 1975 titled The Oddball Couple during the network's Saturday morning kids' programming block, Funshine Saturday. Although authorized by Neil Simon (who received a "based on" credit) completely different characters were created: "Spiffy" (a fussy cat voiced by Frank Nelson) and "Fleabag" (a sloppy dog voiced by Paul Winchell) who live together in a house that is half rundown and messy and half pristine and tidy along with a matching car. It was directed and produced by David DePatie and Friz Freleng, along with Gerry Chiniquy, and Robert McKimson among others, who directed several episodes. The characters' professions in this version were reversed from the original series, with the fastidious Spiffy working as a reporter and the rumpled Fleabag a photographer, often working together. The cartoon was canceled in 1977.
In 1982, as a hedge against the 1981 Writers Guild of America strike, ABC aired an African-American version of The Odd Couple, starring Ron Glass as Felix and Demond Wilson as Oscar. It was called The New Odd Couple, and initially used eight previously-filmed scripts from the original series; when the strike ended during the series' production, union writers returned, and original episodes were written from then on. It was canceled after only half a season.
A Chilean version titled Una Pareja Dispareja began airing in January 2009 on TVN. This version takes several of its cues from Two and a Half Men, a Chuck Lorre-created sitcom with a similar premise to The Odd Couple. Some of the details taken from Two and a Half Men include Felix and Oscar being siblings instead of friends, as well as Felix being a doctor and Oscar a musician.
Another American remake, also called The Odd Couple, aired on CBS for three seasons from 2015 to 2017. This version, a multi-camera sitcom, was co-created and co-produced by Matthew Perry, who played Oscar, while Thomas Lennon played Felix.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||24||September 24, 1970||March 26, 1971|
|2||23||September 17, 1971||March 3, 1972|
|3||23||September 15, 1972||March 23, 1973|
|4||22||September 14, 1973||March 22, 1974|
|5||22||September 12, 1974||March 7, 1975|
|TV movie||September 24, 1993|
The Complete First Season of The Odd Couple was released on DVD in Region 1 on August 18, 2006 by Time Life Video under license from Paramount Home Entertainment (Paramount Television was the program's original distributor). Some episodes, mainly from the first season, were available on a VHS videotape set during the 1990s, and distributed by Columbia House.
Each episode on the First Season DVDs contain an introduction from the show's producer Garry Marshall. Also included as extras are Emmy Awards speeches, bloopers, TV interviews with the show's stars and a clip of The Odd Couple on Broadway.
Paramount/CBS DVD have since released the remaining seasons (two through five) of The Odd Couple on DVD in Region 1. Season 1 was released in Region 2 on April 28, 2008. While the Time/Life Season 1 DVD release contained only unedited episodes as originally broadcast, CBS Home Entertainment opted to edit their DVDs of seasons two through five, removing short segments or occasionally entire scenes which included music sung by Felix or some other character. A notable example of this can be seen in the Season 5 episode "Strike Up the Band or Else" where, in the epilogue, guest star Pernell Roberts' character is going to sing, and the episode abruptly ends and closing credits roll. Fans and critics alike lambasted CBS/Paramount for the shoddy treatment The Odd Couple DVD releases received, concluding that the studio has misled consumers by labeling their DVD sets as "complete" when they have been intentionally edited to avoid paying royalties required by the music publishers.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2|
|The First Season||24||April 24, 2007||April 28, 2008|
|The Second Season||23||August 28, 2007||TBA|
|The Third Season||23||January 22, 2008||TBA|
|The Fourth Season||22||June 10, 2008||TBA|
|The Fifth and Final Season||22||November 18, 2008||TBA|
|The Complete Series||114||June 16, 2015||TBA|
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