Thursday, February 7, 2008

He and She

(TV) (1967-68) Produced by Leonard Stern
Story Editors Chris Haywood and Alan Burns
Starring Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Jack Cassady, Kenneth Mars, Hamilton Camp
Episode Guide

Some TV shows are just a little bit ahead of their time. Not even good stories, great characters, and laugh-out-loud funny scripts are enough to save them -- yet if they had come on the air a year or two later, they might have been big hits.

He and She is a prime example of this. It ran for only one season, and was similar in style and tone to the MTM comedies of a few years later (as others have pointed out). For some reason, it just didn't catch on.

The show starred Richard Benjaman and Paula Prentiss (husband and wife) as Dick and Paula Hollister. Dick was a cartoonist, whose comic character Jetman was a hit TV show starring actor Oscar North (Jack Cassady). Paula worked at the Traveler's Aid, and had a bad habit of bringing home lost travelers like stray puppies.

Most of the stories took place in the main room of their apartment, which doubled as Dick's work area. Harry Zarakardos (Kenneth Mars) was their neighbor -- a fireman who lived in the building facing them and who would visit by walking across a plank between the two apartment. Rounding out the cast was Andrew Hummell (Hamilton Camp), the building handyman.

Obviously, Dick should have been making enough money with a hit TV show to buy the building instead of living in a run down apartment. So eventually, he did. Evidently, he just liked the place, and didn't mind that his wife worked even though she didn't need to (pretty advanced thinking for 1967).

Of course, it was easy to believe Dick and Paula were a married couple, especially since their chemistry in real life spilled over into the show. Dick was slightly more levelheaded and it allowed Benjamin to play up his propensity for hysterical frustration. Paula was a bit flighty, but calm and soothing (and quite sexy, too).

But the other actors helped make the show such a delight. Cassady was just great as Oscar North, an egotistical actor who always wanted to be front and center. Some have compared him to the later Ted Baxter, but he was never the fool that Baxter was, but rather someone who couldn't go past a mirror without taking a look.

Hamilton Camp was wonderful as Andrew, the somewhat strange handyman. I remember loving every moment he appeared on screen. (Camp, incidentally, was a celebrated folksinger and songwriter at the time of the show, with songs recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary; Simon and Garfunkel; Ian and Sylvia; and Quicksilver Messenger Service.) Kenneth Mars was also great as Harry.

The show never went anywhere in the ratings, and was cancelled at the end of the season (it reran a few episodes in the summer of 1970).

The cast moved on. Benjamin became a movie star for a time (most notably in Goodbye Columbus and Westworld) before making some horrible choices and fading into character roles and direction (notably with My Favorite Year and unnotably with most everything else). His career might have been more successful if audiences had taken to Quark, which also was ahead of its time.

Prentiss never seemed find a good role; Cassady found his star eclipsed by his ex-wife Shirley Jones and sons David, Shaun, and Patrick, and died tragically in an apartment fire. Camp also never got a role a good as Andrew, but worked successfully as a character actor and singer until his death. Only Kenneth Mars had a successful career, becoming part of Mel Brook's stock company starting with The Producers (he played the Nazi playwright) and going on the considerably more nutty roles.

The show seems to have been forgotten, though. It's something that's worth a DVD. I know I'd go out and buy it.

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