Monday, January 28, 2013

Rant #892: Bachelor Father

I always Rant against current television fare.

Today's TV is generally pure trash.

Every once in a while, there is something good on TV, but generally the shows are unoriginal, potty mouthed, and so far below the standard that was once set by the networks.

So I often travel back in time and watch shows that were on that met something of a higher standard.

The show I am going to talk about today, which can currently be seen in reruns on Antenna TV, is not one of those shows. Even for its time, it was probably one of the shows that led to that famous quote, that TV is a "vast wasteland."

But it is a show that I like, watched in reruns as a kid, and I am still amazed how much I still enjoy the show all these years later.

It's "Bachelor Father," a sitcom that ran from 1957 to 1962 that has the distinction as being the only show to run its first-run episodes on all three networks--ABC, NBC and CBS.

The premise of the show is that Bentley Gregg, a high-powered California attorney who has a definite playboy eye for the ladies, has been saddled with the upbringing of his niece, Kelly, when her parents die in an automobile accident. This brings the two together, and the new culture clash--between Gregg's late 1950s-early 1960s man about town desires and his niece's blossoming womanhood--are the basis for the show's humor.

And then there is Peter, the house boy.

Peter is the antagonist, the guy who sets most things in motion on the show. He is not an obedient house boy; he talks back to his employer at all times, but also helps move the plot from one point to the next.

John Forsythe's first big TV role was as Gregg, and he fit the character perfectly.

He always had that suave, sophisticated look, which served him well much later on on "Dynasty." This show, produced by his own Bachelor Productions, shows him vigorously giving 110 percent on what are basically very thin plots, but he handles them with a lot of verve. He really was an excellent actor, one who we lost in 2010.

Noreen Corcoran plays Kelly, and she is the one who the show really revolves around, and the one who probably kept the show on for as long as it ran. The pretty young lady is going through her character's growing pains on the show, and it often meets head on with Greg's desires to be a playboy. Corcoran became quite the teen idol during the run of this show, and the networks certainly saw that, passing the program from one to another during its run based on her popularity with the younger set.

But the true star of the show is Sammee Tong, who plays Peter Tong, the houseboy. He gets under Gregg's skin all the time, and often backs "Niece Kelly's" wishes and desires over his employer's decisions. Tong had a good wit about him, and he is often given the best lines on the show. Sure, the character was as stereotypical as can be--and I bet this has held back its possible popularity in reruns--but Tong is very good in his role.

Another feature of the show is the numerous soon-to-be big stars or very familiar faces who guest starred on the show. Everyone from Ryan O'Neal to Barbara Eden guest starred on the show before making it big, as did established character actors like Jack Albertson and Olan Soule. Every episode seems to have somebody like this on the show.

And, of course, since Gregg is a ladies' man, there are a lot of beautiful women who made appearances on the show. Some are used as simply window dressing, but others later established themselves as excellent actresses, including Sue Ane Langdon, who had appeared in Playboy magazine around the time she was on "Bachelor Father."

Anyway, we all know that Forsythe went on to become one of TV's most popular actors. Corcoran left acting and has taught acting and dance for decades. Tong met a poor fate: a big gambler and drug user, he later committed suicide.

But the show--a sitcom that the networks simply didn't know what to do with during its five-year run--has lasted all these years in occasional reruns, and now you can watch it if you have Antenna TV.

It certainly set the tone for shows like "Family Affair" and the Benson character on "Soap" would have never existed without Tong's Peter the house boy.

And, in fact, "Family Affair" recognized its roots, and do you remember Forsythe's show before "Dynasty?" It was "From Rome, With Love," and it premiered as an episode of "Family Affair," as it was done by the same production team. It was very similar to "Family Affair," and although it only ran for two seasons, the "Bachelor Father/"Family Affair" connection came full circle with Forsythe's late 1960s show.

Today, as an adult, I watch "Bachelor Father," and I laugh and laugh, just as I did as a kid, and I feel good after each and every episode.

Isn't that what TV--and in particular, the sitcom arm of television--be all about?

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