Question: I know you want us to say we're betting, so you should know that if my wife is right she gets to drive the roadster for the week and I'm stuck with the mini-van. Please say I'm right. Which classic sitcom featured a real family? I say Father Knows Best, but she says Ozzie and Harriet. Thanks — Brad W.
Televisionary: So what you're telling me is if she wants to take the cool car out for a spin, she's forced to go up against you in silly, TV-based bets to get her way? Brad, Brad, Brad — both you and the missus have a lot to learn about about who truly holds the power in your house.
She's right on this one, pal. The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, one of TV's longest-running sitcoms with a October 1952 ABC launch and a September 1966 exit (see the second question of my March 13 column for more on that), was based on the lives of the real-life Nelson family and featured dad Ozzie, wife Harriet and the couple's two boys, David and Ricky.
Bandleader Nelson and his singer wife made their living with their music in the '30s and '40s, appearing on Red Skelton's radio show and even filling in for him when Skelton was drafted. They got their own slot and built a show that revolved around the family's lives (the Nelson boys took over for the actors playing them in 1949) and the canny Nelson even talked ABC into a 10-year contract that paid whether his series was cancelled or not. ABC, understandably, kept him working, putting together a Nelson family theatrical film in '52 that served as a forerunner to the show.
Ozzie was a perfectionist who insisted on high production values and his efforts paid off in the show's remarkable popularity. Often the family's real lives blurred with those of their TV counterparts — the show's house was based on the Nelsons' actual abode and when the boys got married, their spouses, June Blair (David's wife) and Kristin Harmon (Ricky's) were incorporated into the series. Fantasy and reality fed each other: Notably, after Ricky (later Rick, who died in a plane crash in 1985) sang Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin' " in '57, his version became a runaway smash on vinyl. That launched a music career that included such hits as "Fools Rush In," "Hello, Mary Lou," "Garden Party" and "Travelin' Man." Of course, in a display of creative synergy that many of today's shows would love to attain, it didn't hurt that many songs were showcased on the series. (Rick Nelson passed the musical genes on, somewhat — twin sons Gunnar and Matthew did very well in 1990 when their aptly named band, Nelson, released its debut album, After the Rain.
Seven years after the show left the airwaves, the elder Nelsons returned with the syndicated Ozzie's Girls, in which Ozzie and Harriet took in two female college-student boarders. It didn't last a season.
Now cough up the keys and look at the bright side, Brad. All the young chicks you're struggling to wow with your slick ride will be more impressed by your dad-and-hubby status and the self-confidence of a guy who takes the wheel of the family truckster without a hint of embarrassment.