Warm and Ozzie
February 11, 2008 12:47 PM
I recently came across the old “Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” show on KVCR-TV, the public broadcasting station in San Bernardino, Calif. It had been a long time since I’d seen that series, and I had a vague memory of it being very “radio”; by that I mean not very visual—if you close your eyes while it’s on and just listen, you don’t really miss anything. My interest piqued, I set the DVR to record it anytime it ran.
Viewing several episodes from the course of its 1952-66 ABC run confirmed my original opinion; after all, it did start out as a radio show way back in the ’40s. But even though it’s a stand-there-and-deliver-your-lines-to-a-laugh-track sort of affair, upon revisiting “Ozzie and Harriet” I found it to be disarmingly intriguing. That the Nelsons—Ozzie, wife Harriet and sons David and Ricky—were a real-life family imbued the dialog with a kind of shorthand, and the entire clan spoke with the same ironic inflection, making for an interesting sociological subtext to alleviate some of the more mundane plotlines. That, along with the outsized success Ricky Nelson experienced as a rock ’n’ roll idol right before your eyes, distinguished “Ozzie and Harriet” from similar contemporary family sitcoms like “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show” and “Leave It to Beaver.”
In the middle years, when Ricky was at the peak of his success, the show was something of a cultural force; whitebread, to be sure, but nonetheless potent, as folks gathered around onscreen and off for one of his shoe-horned-in musical performances. (Apparently Ozzie, ever the astute businessman, would only allow Ricky to perform on the family show; no “Ed Sullivan” or “Tonight Show” for him. As million-seller records bolstered Ricky’s popularity, the show’s must-see appeal to younger viewers took off.)
In the assortment of shows aired by KVCR were a couple of color episodes from the final season (who even knew it ever went to color?). But by then, its time was up. The boys were way grown with families of their own, and Ozzie and Harriet were pretty much left to themselves and their cloying middle-aged neighbors (Joe and Clara Randolph, anyone?).