Two Magical Sixties TV Sitcoms

by Guy Belleranti
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The mid-1960's brought two magic-themed situation comedies to television: Bewitched on ABC and I Dream of Jeannie on NBC.

Bewitched arrived first, beginning in 1964 and running for eight seasons until 1972. I Dream of Jeannie began in 1965 and ran until 1970.

Bewitched starred Elizabeth Montgomery as a witch named Samantha who falls in love and marries human Darrin Stephens (played first by Dick York, and then later by Dick Sargent). Samantha's mother, Endora (played by Agnes Moorehead), disapproves of Darrin and pretty much all other humans as well. Her disapproval, in fact, often leads her to put spells on Darrin to make his life difficult.

Other important cast members during different parts of the series run included:

David White as Larry Tate, Darrin's boss at work.

Marion Lorne as Samantha's Aunt Clara, a lovable witch whose declining magical powers almost always ended in silly disasters.

Alice Pearce (and then later, Sandra Gould) as Alice Kravitz, the nosy neighbor living across the street.

Diane and Erin Murphy as daughter Tabitha.

When I Dream of Jeannie hit the NBC airwaves in 1965 it was in direct response to the popularity of ABC's Bewitched. In fact, Bewitched had been such a hit in its first season that it finished second only to Bonanza.

NBC hoped to have the same success with Jeannie. This sitcom portrayed the life of a genie, named appropriately enough Jeannie, and the man who freed her from a two-thousand-year imprisonment in a bottle.

Barbara Eden played Jeannie, and Larry Hagman was her rescuer, astronaut Captain (later Major) Anthony "Tony" Nelson. Feeling she was in Nelson's debt, Jeannie vows to serve him, calling him master.

Other important cast members in the series included:

Bill Daily as Tony's friend Roger Healey who soon learns of Jeannie, and often desires to use Jeannie's magical powers for his own benefit.

Hayden Rorke as NASA psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Bellows.

I Dream of Jeannie never reached the peaks of success that Bewitched did, however it did have a large following, finishing in 26th place in the ratings in 1965-66 and again in 1968-69. Bewitched, meanwhile, finished in 7th place among all shows in 1965-66 and in 12th place in 1968-69.

Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie had a number of similarities:

Both featured beautiful blonde women with magical powers who were trying to fit into the human world to please the man they loved.

The comedy in both came from what happened when these two women's magical powers clashed with the mortal world.

Both series were at least in part inspired by a motion picture: Bewitched by the Jimmy Stewart/Kim Novak film Bell, Book and Candle, and Jeannie by the Tony Randall/Burl Ives/Barbara Eden film The Brass Bottle.

Like so often done, Hollywood tried to capture the interest of viewers with a theatrical Bewitched in 2005. And word has it that a big screen I Dream of Jeannie is in the works. Whatever the case, both programs certainly filled a television niche back in the 1960's.

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