Most New Yorkers would probably be surprised to learn that “The Odd Couple” never made the Nielsen rating’s Top 25 Programs List, and faced cancellation every single season it was on air. Despite consistently mediocre ratings, the quirky television show and its lovable characters continued to film for five years, from 1970 to 1975, thanks to its higher-than-average ratings for summer re-runs. The Odd Couple’s inimitable stars, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, would consistently receive accolades for their unique portrayal of two of TV’s most original and lovable characters, and both would nab Emmys for their work on the series.
From Stage to Screen
Written by Neil Simon for Broadway, “The Odd Couple” was the toast of the Great White Way from 1965 to 1967. The following year, Simon brought the Tony Award winning play to film and a whole new audience. A runaway hit, the movie, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, was a critical success and one of the highest grossing movies of 1968. Could television be far behind?
From Screen to Little Screen
Affable slob Oscar Madison and fastidiously neat Felix Unger were two men sharing an apartment on Park Avenue. The twosome were trying to get by after being unceremoniously booted out of their marriages — Madison permanently and Unger — temporarily. Madison was a sportswriter, played with perfection by consummate pro Jack Klugman. Unger, a photographer, was played to near-finicky perfection by Tony Randall.
Neither Klugman nor Randall were locks for either part when Garry Marshall developed the series for Paramount Television. Other stars being considered for the series were Art Carney, who played Randall’s character on Broadway, Mickey Rooney and Dean Martin. The ABC TV show boasted a stable of some of the best comedy writers around, including Jerry Belson and Bob Brunner, both adept at creating hysterical scenarios that pitted each man’s habits against the other’s, tempered with a clear and obvious affection. Much of the action took place inside the pair’s Manhattan apartment, known for hosting cigar-filled poker games and the occasional dinner date.
Despite struggling ratings, viewers loved the show and connected to the underlying pathos of each man’s situation and reveled in their interactions with each other. Each episode pitted Oscar Madison’s sloppiness against Felix Unger’s neatness with hilarious results. Viewers found it impossible to choose sides between the two, as both characters were likable and astonishingly believable.
Supporting characters included the delightful Pigeon Sisters, Murray the Cop and Madison’s secretary, Myrna Turner, played by Garry’s sister Penny Marshall.
The Odd Couple, Redux
Hoping to serve up an old favorite to a new generation, CBS has just launched a new “Odd Couple” series, starring “Friends” favorite Matthew Perry as Oscar and Thomas Lennon as Felix. Garry Marshall has signed on as a consultant of to the new show.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.