Question: Dear Doc TV, please help me win a bet. My older brother Stu is a huge Odd Couple fan and he swears it was originally supposed to be about two black men. He says network executives made them white because they didn't think audiences in the '70s would be open to it. That sounds like garbage to me, and we've got a night of beer riding on it. Who's right? Thanks. — Looking for free suds
Televisionary: To be perfectly frank, Sudsy, the oddest thing about this Odd Couple imbroglio isn't how mixed up your bro is about the chronology of the show's universe, but that he's a "huge" fan and doesn't know his history. In my experience, Odd fans are nearly as rabid as Trekkers and Simpsons buffs, and can run through every detail of every episode on demand. (My freshman-year roommate, for example, was a self-described "Odd-aholic" who could cough up a line for every occasion.)
The Odd Couple began life as a 1965 Neil Simon Broadway play, which in its original run lasted until 1967. (It was based on the tribulations of Simon's brother Danny, a Felix-type who shared a post-divorce apartment with a couple of guys in L.A.) In 1968, the property moved to the big screen with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the leads, and was successful enough to spawn a TV version with Tony Randall as overly particular shutterbug Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison.
Dick Van Dyke Show veterans Gary Marshall (Happy Days) and Jerry Belson (The Tracey Ullman Show) created the series and managed to do what those behind so many small-screen adaptations flub. They and their leading men maintained the concept's charm and crafted a show that stayed on the ABC schedule for five years worth of solid episodes.
Now, here's where I think your brother's confusion comes in. In 1982, Belson brought the series back to TV. This time around, however, he signed an African-American cast that featured Ron Glass (Barney Miller) as Felix and Demond Wilson (Sanford and Son) as Oscar. Several of the minor characters returned, too — Murray (John Schuck), Speed (Christopher Joy) Cecily (Sheila Anderson) and Gwendolyn (Ronalda Douglas) — but the audience didn't. The show launched in the fall and was off the air in June.
Don't be too hard on your brother, Suds. At least he didn't try to convince you the show was originally supposed to be animated (The Oddball Couple featured a cartoon pooch-and-kitty duo in the mid-'70s). But don't be too merciful — make it an import night.