Herbie J Pilato: Bewitched @ 50: Happy Silver Anniversary to Samantha and Darrin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is the 50th anniversary of BEWITCHED’s debut on our screens. What better way to celebrate it than to turn this space over to the World’s Foremost Authority on this show, Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato, author of 3 definitive books on the subject –  The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery, Twitch Upon A Star, and Bewitched Forever? Take it away Herbie J:

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by Herbie J Pilato

So, what makes Bewitched great – and why are we still talking about it fifty years after its original lengthy hit run on ABC (from September 17, 1964 to July 2, 1972)?

Like any superior television show, feature film or live stage production, it all begins with the script.

And the pilot script for Bewitched, written by Sol Saks, is one of the most well-rounded half-hour initial teleplays ever conceived.

Saks explained it all in his wonderful book, The Craft of Comedy Writing, first published by Writers Digest Books in 1985 (and which I recommend every writer should reads, be they novice and veteran).

In a tight thirty minutes, the Bewitched not only introduces and marries the two main characters – Samantha, the graceful good and wise witch-with-a-twitch (portrayed by the one and only Elizabeth Montgomery, who was nominated eight-times for the role), and her mortal husband Darrin (a role shared by Dick York and Dick Sargent) – it manages to intertwine a solid B-story about Samantha meeting Darrin’s arrogant ex-fiancé (played by Nancy Kovak).  In the process, the pilot sets up nicely the entire premise of the series:  Samantha and Darrin love each other despite their differences, and the stern objection of her feisty sorceress mother Endora (played to perfection by Agnes Moorehead), and while he is initially shocked with his wife’s heritage, he loves her no matter what – if only requesting that she promise not to use her powers.

As the series continues, of course, Samantha breaks her promise on a weekly basis.  And the human home she shares with Darrin is not only frequently visited by the interfering Endora, but nosy neighbor Gladsy Kravitz (first played by the Emmy-winning Alice Peace, then Sandra Gould), and any number of witches, warlocks and various supernatural beings, or other-worldly sorts that arrive because of any assorted amount of magic mayhem.

Behind Sol Saks, the core premise of Bewitched was inspired by the show’s executive producer, Harry Ackerman, the master-mind of many of classic sitcoms, including Dennis the Menace, The Famer’s DaughterHazel, and the under-appreciated Gidget (which introduced the world to the Oscar-winning Sally Field).

Ackerman, a former executive for CBS, had an idea for a weekly witch series, which he titled, The Witch of Westport.  In a meeting with Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and then-husband producer/director William Asher (who worked with Ackerman on I Love Lucy at CBS) had introduced a show concept called The Fun Couple, about a wealthy woman who falls in love with an auto-mechanic.  Ackerman suggested Bewitched and witchcraft instead of The Fun Couple and “richcraft.”

Elizabeth and Bill Asher loved the Samantha series idea, and the rest is history.  Bewitched became an instant hit for ABC.

However, that would not have transpired if all the pieces were in place beforehand…the pieces placed, again – in the script.

The characters of Bewitched were finely-tuned.  No two characters talked alike, looked alike, or behaved alike.  The stories were fanciful, but whatever transpired within the world of Bewitched made sense in that world.  There was a logic to the illogic of what was portrayed.  If Samantha placed a spell on someone, only Samantha could remove that spell.   Witches could work any kind of sorcery imaginable, but they could not alter time, and so forth.  The Bewitched writer’s bible for the series was crafted with immense detail by William Asher, and the show’s early writers, including genius minds like Danny Arnold (who later created the heralded Barney Miller sitcom for ABC), and Bernard Slade (who went on to attain super success on Broadway with “Same Time, Next Year”; and also with ABC’s The Partridge Family).

An important component in the over-all quality and presentation of Bewitched’s was the high-likeability factor and various talents of its cast:  Elizabeth, York, Sargent, Moorehead – and others like David White (Darrin’s conniving ad-man boss Larry Tate), Marion Lorne (the bumbling witch Aunt Clara), George Tobias (Abner Kravitz, the curmudgeon), Kasey Rogers and Irene Vernon (who shared the role of Larry’s wife Louise Tate), Bernard Fox (witch Dr. Bombay), Maurice Evans (Samantha’s warlock father Maurice, pronounced “Moor-eese!”), Paul Lynde (the practical-joking Uncle Arthur) – and twins Erin and Diane Murphy (as little magical Tabitha), and the also twinned David and Greg Lawrence (as Tabitha’s younger brother Adam) always hit their magic mark.

In short, their is no one reason why Bewitched remains a classic and beloved series five decades after its debut.

Just like there is not any one reason why any quality TV show, film or stage play becomes a hit.

Such success is always a result of a combination of factors.

With Bewitched, in particular, however, it was the perfection combination “X” factors – times a million.


Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.

Your Characters’ POV

Getting into the heads of your characters, especially your protagonist’s, is the name of the game for all good fiction writing. Time now for some tips for those of you who are writing prose fiction. (But if you’re very, very smart and read closely, all you TV writing peeps will benefit as well.)

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by Rita Karnopp

Your primary character’s point of view can only be real if you empathize and understand them inside and out.  You want your reader to see the story through the eyes of your character.

We get to know our characters by asking them questions . . . like you would a new acquaintance or perhaps a new family member you’ve never met.  So what kind of questions can you ask that will give you the understanding you need to get to know your primary characters?

  • Do you believe in marriage?
  • Are you inclined to believe man is destroying the world?
  • Do you have a good relationship with your parents?
  • Were you ever married or have you had a serious boyfriend/girlfriend before?
  • Are you angry about any issue?
  • Find out if your character has a chip on his shoulder.
  • The list goes on and on. . . .

But remember, not everything you know about your character has to go into your story.  You need to know your character so you’ll understand how he’ll answer, act, behave, react, and maybe even defy.

There’s one thing you must always consider when writing . . . and it involves your POV character . . . the five senses; smell, hear, touch, taste, and see.  Which of these senses are your weaknesses and strengths?

Does your character notice perfume?  That could be important.  Does he hear a certain tone/voice annotation that triggers a clue?  Does the clamminess of skin reveal anything?  Does the bitterness of the wine warn it might be poisoned?  Or did he notice the man slip a piece of paper into the pocket of the man in front of him.  Perception is key in any story.

Your POV character may have strengths and weaknesses of the senses, too.  They could be key to their personality as well.  Think about the blind person and his other heightened senses.  Use sensory focus to create personality in your primary characters.

What follows in this wheelhouse is intuition – when your character can sense the emotion, anxieties, objective, and fears of others.  It’s an extra sense that can create mood and make your protagonist believable.  Characters such as cops or doctors who must make snap judgments for the good of others display this sense.

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Peggy Bechko: 4 Great Tips on Writing to the Magic

 Peggy Bechko Magicby Peggy Bechko

Writers, at least fiction writers, pretty much live in a world of make-believe. We live in worlds of our own creation and in that living attempt to make those worlds real to everyone else; readers, listeners, watchers.

But it’s not as simple as sitting around spinning tales. Don’t we wish. There’s a whole lot that goes into writing a story and one aspect of that is research. No you can’t skip it.

Getting facts straight brings believability. If your setting is in the 1920’s Chicago you better know what you’re talking about to get the mood set and not flush readers and watchers right out of their ‘suspension of disbelief’ mode. Yes that goes for Sci Fi and Fantasy as well – get some facts in there that will make your ‘way out of our experience’ world more real. If you trim unreality with reality you bring belief and immersion.

And research doesn’t stop with just the story. A good writer knows his or her genre or field. Study it. If you write scripts read a lot of them; some of the classics and lots of the current crop. Study what everyone is doing, find the clichés and then find ways to stand them on their heads. Dig deep, reach for originality, Do something no one else has done.

Yes, it sounds easier than it is, but that’s your goal. Doesn’t matter what genre you work in, scifi/fantasy, drama, romance, adventure, comedy or a new one of your own creation – read a lot, know what’s out there, know the style, then find that opportunity and create something transformational.

And that’s where the magic comes in. Yep, magic is what it’s all about for writers. Play with your story when you’re on that fifth revision and can’t quite figure out why it isn’t all coming together the way you intended. That story that has become like an albatross since it’s inception will suddenly take wing if you find the magic and pull your head out of the rewrite doldrums.

When you’re tired, and tired of the story, wondering why you ever wanted to write it in the first place take that break and let your brain have a play day. Whip out the old ‘what if’ question and throw in some doozies. Look for the magic and you’ll find it.

You’ll also find the conflict. Hey, as writers we’ve long ago learned the lesson. If you have no conflict your story dies. There is, after all no story with no conflict. Play with your characters when you’re looking for that magic. What is it those newly created people in your newly created world want the most? What are their obstacles?

Don’t be nice to your people. Hit them over the head with it and make them squirm. The more the better. The more the people in your novel appear to be on the losing end the better the tension. The more the people in your script seem doomed – right up until the final scene, the more you’ll have an audience on the edge of their seats.

So turn the demons loose. They’ll reveal the art your protagonist must take through your story. They’ll lead the way and you’ll create a great story.


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.


 

The People – and Secrets – Behind Reality TV

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Just a few days ago, LB filled us in on what frequent TVWriter™ guest columnist Troy DeVolld is up to. (Hint, it’s very cool TV stuff.) So today we’re presenting links to Troy’s recent podcasts about the ins and outs, making and unmaking, “reality” and “writing” of the media in which Troy is so expert. And not only does Troy do some yakking, so do his equally impressive and creative friends.

Just click and Enjoy:

Ep 101 – Remember We’re Not Here; Joey Ortega

Troy DeVolld, author of the bestselling Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market and RealityTvBook.com and producer with credits on shows like The Osbournes, The Surreal Life, Dancing With the Stars, Flipping Out, Basketball Wives and more, previews his upcoming regular podcast Remember, We’re Not Here, so named for the last words often spoken to reality television casts just before the cameras roll.

Troy’s guest for the inaugural podcast is Joey Ortega, Manager of Development for Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions, which has recently brought Mobbed and Deal With It (airing Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30C on TBS) to life.

Highlights of the podcast include a round of “Real or Fake,” Ortega’s advice to game show creators, and DeVolld forcing Ortega to resolve imaginary showdowns between the greatest game show hosts of all time.

Tracks featured in the podcast include The Builder, Overcast, Music to Delight, Monster Promenade, Disco Con Tutti, Monkeys Spinning Monkeys, Vegas Glitz and Jaunty Gumption by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com.  Music is licensed via Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Ep 102 Remember We’re Not Here: Andrew Hoagland

Troy DeVolld, reality television producer and author of Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to Television’s Hottest Market welcomes Andrew Hoagland, whose credits include Surf Girls, The Bachelor, American Inventor and Basketball Wives for a discussion of his career, various insights into reality television storytelling, and even a few games.

To play along with the MEMORY LANE game, pull up Andrew Hoagland’s imdb.com profile.  For the Sherwood Schwartz book referenced by Andrew, click HERE.

Music featured in the podcast and licensed via Creative Commons (by attribution) includes the tracks Music to Delight, Jaunty Gumption, Miri’s Magic Dance, Monster Promenade, Disco Con Tutti, Vegas Glitz and Monkeys Spinning Monkeys, all by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com.

Ep 103 Remember We’re Not Here: Shelly Goldstein

Troy DeVolld, reality television producer and author of Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market, welcomes multi-hyphenate writer/producer Shelly Goldstein to the podcast.  Highlights include another round of Real or Fake, the never to be repeated Idol/Not Idol, and discussion of Goldstein’s strange journey from her big break on Laverne and Shirley to a number of reality television credits and beyond.

Music featured on the podcast includes the tracks Jaunty Gumption, Miri’s Magic Dance, One-Eyed Maestro, Vegas Glitz, The Builder, Disco Con Tutti and Monkeys Spinning Monkeys, Monster Promenade and Music to Delight, all by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com.

licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

Ep 104 Remember We’re Not Here; Carl Hansen

Reality TV Producer and Author Troy DeVolld (Basketball Wives, Hollywood Game Night, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to Television’s Hottest Market and Realitytvbook.com) welcomes Carl Hansen, Emmy® -nominated Producer of Shark Tank and current Director of Production at Fox Sports Originals.  In this informal episode of the podcast, recorded in DeVolld’s home over pizza and snacks, Hansen shares stories of his career beginnings, plays a round of REAL OR FAKE and poses an interesting and funny question about whether Rodney Dangerfield metaphors for the reality television business are intrinsically flawed.

As always, the podcast features tracks by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com with a complete track listing read off in the closing credits pursuant to Creative Commons Licensing with Accreditation.

Ep 105 Remember We’re Not Here: Jon Collins

Reality television producer and author Troy DeVolld (Basketball Wives, Dancing With the Stars, Hollywood Game Night and Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market) welcomes reality television producer Jon Collins (Off Pitch, Total Divas, Breaking Pointe) for an interview with the actor turned reality pro.

Highlights include a round of REAL OR FAKE, a discussion about married couples within the industry and some frank talk about underestimating the intelligence of reality television audiences.

Musical selections by Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech.com are listed at the end of the broadcast and used under Creative Commons License by Attribution.

The Burdens of Talent

Do we really have to be crazy in order to be creative geniuses? Can anyone really know? The truth is elusive, but Ilyana Romanovsky is definitely on its trail:

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by Ilyana Romanovsky, M.A., MFT

In a cartoon from some time ago, Vincent Van Gogh hears a knock on the door and opens it to find a futuristic stranger  bearing a vial of medicine that could cure mental illness.  He hands Van Gough the antidepressant, and encouragingly states, “it is worth a try.”  Van Gough downs the medicine at once and exclaims while throwing his hands up in the air, “I feel better already! I feel like painting happy paintings!” This cartoon pinpoints a critical discussion surrounding men endowed with great gifts of creativity, or simply put – the burdens of talent.

Children with unusual constitutional capacities often behave differently from their peers in some respects.  For instance, a child might prefer playing privately (versus with groups of other children), or be identified as having a ‘deficit’ due to some peculiarity of behavior.  These behaviors might at first be viewed with skepticism.  But the peculiarity is not necessarily a marker of deficit and may instead be a marker of potential talent.  Furthermore, the talent must be fostered to allow the child to reach his or her full potential.  A clinician is more likely to encounter creative individuals whose parents failed to solve the problems of raising a gifted child rather than parents who mastered it successfully.  The most dramatic example I have seen in my own practice is that of a patient whose parents noted that something was amiss early on, with their son being difficult to respond to any type of soothing and even more difficult to communicate with.  The parents eventually came to the conclusion that their son was intellectually disabled, and placed him in a school for kids with special needs.

Interestingly enough, we can find similar echoes of misunderstandings in the biographies of great men.  For example, the poet and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was thought to be retarded by his parents due to a delay in his verbal abilities.[i]  Albert Einstein was also slow to develop, with the family quickly jumping to a misdiagnosis of his condition.[ii]  Of course, parents can hardly be blamed for being unable to see past seeming abnormalities, concluding developmental delay.  In some instances, it is precisely this delay or an initial “handicap” in kids, especially in formative years, that permits the development of special skills that facilitate creative endeavors in the future.[iii]

The degree to which a child’s differences from his peers will affect his self-esteem depends largely on the parents’ ability to discern those differences as either advantageous or disadvantageous.  This could be particularly difficult to do if a child is truly great.  How could Einstein’s family have known that his delayed abilities would amount to an awe-striking capacity for abstract thought? Or that Nietzsche’s exceptionally broad talent would manifest itself in writings that would inspire millions for centuries to come?  The defects inherent in these virtues are hard to dismiss and further supported by lives of other creative geniuses such as Marcel Proust, an eminent French novelist.

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Angelo J. Bell: Recovery and Resurgence: Just Keep Swimming

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by Angelo J. Bell

The news hit hard. Kiss of the Black Forest aka Legend of Black Lotus did not make it to the quarterfinalssemifinals of the Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Contest. Time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get busy. At the time we were eight and 3/4 months into 2014 and there wasn’t much time left to get things done. I decided that something had to happen in Q4. Forget about anything and everyone else who couldn’t or wouldn’t see my aspirations or vision — something had to happen.

I was spread pretty thin: screenwriting contests. Prepping TV pitches. Getting ready to launch a feature film project.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” 

I kept pressing. Something big is gonna happen in TV. That’s where the opportunity and the magic is. But there were not pitch meetings scheduled for Kiss Hug Five and #RCWD. How can we make Q4 successful? What can *I* do to create an opportunity?

Then out of the blue, a friend hit me up about a film fund and I was able to submit four projects for consideration. Waiting to hear the outcome of that.

Then, while having a casual business conversation with a friend about an existing project, he said something that sparked my imagination. I went back to an old project with no movement, revamped it the very next day. A week later I got a call from a representative of Bravo Network (affiliate of NBCUniversal), who are starting up a new scripted department for the network. He aske when we could put a meeting on the books to discuss the revised project.

Just keep swimming.

Don’t stop.