Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another TV Comedy Maestro Passes -- Farewell to Sherwood Schwartz

First Sam Denoff passes away, and now another man who definitely had his finger right on the perfect pulse point for pop culture immortality.  Writer, producer and comedy veteran Sherwood Schwartz passed away yesterday at the age of 94, and like Denoff, it's impossible to consider classic TV comedy without giving a huge nod to his output and influence.  It was a simpler time for television comedy, to be sure -- no scathing social commentary, no references to scandalous body parts -- but the competition was tough. In a landscape where Lucy still reigned, you really had to be funny, and skilled, and maybe just a little lucky to make audiences laugh and keep coming back for more.  Sherwood Schwartz was all that.

After a college career studing biology -- smart guy, too! -- Schwartz joined his brother (never underestimate familial connections in Hollywood) who was a writer for Bob Hope.  Both Schwartz boys were soon on Hope's regular writing staff, and later Sherwood wrote for other shows, then transitioned over to the TV side of things to write for popular series like I Married Joan and The Red Skelton Show.  Fortune smiled on him when his concept for a desert island sitcom called Gilligan's Island sold to CBS, leading to a three year network success -- 1964 - 1967 -- and decades of syndication reruns which show no signs of abating.  (Sorry for not being able to put the actual opening credits here -- none on YouTube are embeddable.)

If Sherwood had done nothing more than strand Gilligan and the Skipper on that island, it probably would have been enough, but Schwartz' comic mind never stopped.  In 1966 he created the short-lived but peppy astronauts-meet-cavemen sitcom It's About Time, with its peppy theme song that has lingered in fan memory longer than the series itself.  Sherwood wrote the theme songs to all his big hit series; they're all charming and unforgettable, so chalk up another talent for him.

In 1969 Sherwood Schwartz again hit the motherlode -- he created the blended family sitcom The Brady Bunch, leading to five years of hilarious childhood angst and giving babyboomers of a certain age a universal touchstone.  (I was too old for TBB, never watched it -- except when Davy Jones did a guest gig -- but I get its appeal!).  If Aaron Spelling supplied the "jiggle" for a generation, Sherwood Schwartz gave us the "giggle".  With his gentle humor, appealing casts and an appreciation for slapstick that has kept his most popular series on top, Schwartz didn't aim too high but neither did he stoop low.  Middle America loved him, and he earned it.

Creating two of the biggest success in sitcom history didn't mean Sherwood Schwartz took his shingle in; he continued to create series -- Dusty's Trail, Harper Valley PTA -- and remain vitally connected with Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch as they found pop culture immortality.  Gilligan had two TV movies in the 1980s; the Brady family, especially, spawned lots of spin-off series (including variety shows) and of course his characters made it to the big screen twice during the 1990s as nostalgia for the series hit an all-time high.

Making millions of TV viewers happy for decades defines a life well-lived; Sherwood Schwartz had that life.  In a wonderful gesture he also wrote a final letter that he asked be published in The Hollywood Reporter after his death.  It's completely charming and shows what a nice guy he was.  You can read it here.  You might also enjoy watching his multi-part interview at the Archive of American Television.

The Flaming Nose joins Schwartz' family, friends and fans in remembering and honoring this wonderful icon on classic TV.


Jane said...

Awesome nod to Sherwood, who embodies the notion of "life well lived". How wonderful he is. That video of him getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame made me cry. There is so much to be cynical about these days. The world is going to Hell in a Hand Basket. Thanks for the reminder of a lovely writer who just lived to make us all smile.

Diane Sampson said...

Sherwood was a genuinely nice guy and a great family man. He will be missed very much.