With the hit of The Odd Couple (1968), it was inevitable that the popular film would produce a spin-off TV series. Lots of '60s films did especially if they were comedies. Garry Marshall produced the show and brought Jack Klugman on board, even though Tony Randall encouraged him to pick Mickey Rooney instead.
The basic premise of the story is that Oscar Madison and Felix Unger are friends. Oscar is a messy sports journalist who loves to drink, gamble and chase women. Felix is an uptight neat freak (on the TV show he's a photographer) who loves to clean, organize and cook. Oscar has been divorced for a while and Felix is recently separated from his wife. Oscar takes Felix in and with their opposing personalities they clash and hilarity inevitably ensues.
For the first season, they kept somewhat close to the original film. They filmed on the same set that was used in the movie and they even reprise the roles of Pigeon Sisters as well as the circle of Poker playing buddies (same actresses but different actors). During the filming of the pilot, the wardrobe people had a very difficult time finding appropriate clothing for Oscar's character. So someone had asked Jack Klugman that if in exchange for $350 he could give them his entire personal wardrobe. Klugman was more than happy to oblige.
The first season was comprised of 15 episodes and shot with one camera. It did poorly in ratings and the show was canceled after the first season. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall both thought the first season was crap. Klugman went as far as saying only one episode out of the 15 was decent according to his opinion. They begged ABC for more cameras and for another shot at a new and better season. Klugman and Randall worked with the writers, improvised a lot and came up with a lot of their own dialogue and plot. They fed off each other's energies and became great working partners. The ratings improved with each season and the format changed greatly. The poker buddies all but disappeared except for Al Molinaro who played Officer Murray. They added actress Penny Marshall as Myrna Turner and got rid of the Pigeon Sisters. They changed the set and Klugman and Randall became more and more involved in the storyline of each episode. It was filmed in front of a live studio audience because Klugman and Randall both hated the laugh track and they enjoyed the energy they got from doing the show in front of an audience. However, the show was canceled after each and every season. It would be revived with begging and pleading until it was canceled for good in 1975. For a show, which is still well-known to so many today over 40 years later after it first aired, it's a wonder it was canceled so many times!
The TV show is well-known for it's fun theme song. Tony Randall hated it but Klugman was okay with it. Originally, the intro showed Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Simon was horrified and asked for them to remove his name. He hadn't even seen an episode! When he did, he saw how true it was to the concept of The Odd Couple but his name was not associated with it nevertheless. Randall, Klugman, Garry Marshall and the writers had a difficult time with the whole two-men-living-together plot. They were under constant scrutiny and felt pressure to make it very clear to audiences that the were not a couple in the romantic or sexual sense of the term and they were both clearly interested in women. You'll see in many episodes Oscar is a big-time skirt chaser. In the early episodes, Felix is a bit of a womanizer himself however he is later given the goal of getting back his ex-wife.
I don't agree with Jack Klugman. I think the first season was wonderful. I didn't like the shift away from the Poker player group and the addition of Penny Marshall. However, the show continued to be as funny as ever. One of the big flubs of the first season is that they have a 12 Angry Men (1957) inspired episode in which Oscar and Felix meet for the first time while on Jury duty. Felix plays a Henry Fonda-like role and Oscar is like Lee J. Cobb. Later on in the season, they added some voiceover to the intro and the narrator mentions that Oscar and Felix were childhood friends. How could they be childhood friends if they met during Jury duty?! Oops! I find this kind of mistake happens a lot on TV shows especially when new writers are introduced and those new writers perhaps are not familiar with all the details of the show when they come on board.
The Odd Couple is definitely one of my favorite shows of all time. The dynamic between Oscar/Klugman and Felix/Randall is hilarious and continually entertaining. Both actors were so talented and so well-suited for their roles that it just made that show just the more fun to watch. My favorite episode is from Season Four. It's called "The New Car". Oscar wins a radio contest of Opera trivia, to which all the answers come from Felix, and his prize is a car. Oscar is determined to keep the car but he has to share with Felix who is half-responsible for the prize. The problem is, they live in New York City (the interior shots were all filmed in L.A.) and parking is tricky. Very tricky. Hilarity ensues.
Do you like The Odd Couple? Are you an Oscar or a Felix? Which is your favorite episode? If you have fun trivia facts about the show I'd love to read them!