Herbie J Pilato: How THAT GIRL Changed Everything

Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato is busy these days with not only his own TV series but also writing regularly about classic TV for the TV Academy’s website, Emmys.ComHere’s his latest, reminding us of what good television writing can be:

It's the whole Thomas fan-damily!

It’s the whole Thomas fan-damily!

by Herbie J Pilato

The first frames of the opening credits of television’s legendaryThat Girl placed viewers in the front car of a train as it barreled into New York City. 

That locomotive not only carried a young woman who was filled with dreams of independence, but it also brought television into a new era of enlightenment.  A groundbreaking program teeming with wit, style and social consciousness, That Girl didn’t set out to change the world.  But over the course of its celebrated five-year run, it did exactly that.

Airing on ABC from 1966 to 1971, That Girl starred the effervescent Marlo Thomas as aspiring actress Ann Marie from Brewster, New York, who sets her sights on the bright lights of the Big Apple (as perfectly punctuated by the pulsating theme music that opened each episode).

She meets and falls in love with Newsview magazine writer Donald Hollinger, played with chivalrous charm by Ted Bessell, while her sternly loving father Lew Marie, portrayed by the ever dependable Lew Parker, watches from afar – yet is somehow always near.

The show’s ace acting, writing and directing melded seamlessly, combining its colorful sets and fabulous wardrobe to create a cheerful, intelligent and always funny half-hour, one that dependably delivered logical stories with lively dialogue with a decidedly feminist undertone.

Each of the show’s characters had a unique voice (not one line spoken could be interchanged among Ann, Donald and Lew).

The series also featured a rotating A-list of semi-regular and guest players, including: Rosemary DeCamp as Helen Marie (Ann’s mother); Bernie Kopell as Jerry Bauman (Donald’s associate at Newsview, and later Ann’s next door neighbor); Broadway legend Ethel Merman (who made two special-guest appearances); All in the Family’s Carroll O’Connor (as a pre-Archie Bunker opera singer); Laugh-In regular Ruth Buzzi, as Ann’s tom-boyish best friend; stalwart Jesse White (TV’s iconic Maytag commercial repairman) as one of Ann’s many talent agents (which also included comedian George Carlin for one season); and veteran thespian Mabel Alberston, as Donald’s over-bearing mother – a role she played equally well on sister ‘60s sitcom Bewitched (ABC, 1964-1972)….

Read it all at Emmys