90 Bristol Court

NBC had high hopes for its 90-minute sitcom block on Monday nights when the 1964-1965 season began. Under the umbrella title 90 Bristol Court, the block featured three forgotten sitcoms set at the same apartment complex: Karen, Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick and Mary. NBC cancelled two of the three sitcoms after just 13 weeks. Only Karen survived the entire season.

Three Sitcoms In One…

The premise behind 90 Bristol Court was disarmingly simple: string three sitcoms together loosely by having them take place in the same general locale and hope viewers would feel the need to watch all three. Maybe three half-hour sitcoms would be easier for the viewing public to swallow than a single two-hour movie or a ninety-minute Western. Or maybe viewer flow would keep the number of people switching to ABC or CBS to a minimum. Larry Wolters of The Chicago Tribune called the concept “a new wrinkle in comedy” [1].

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Development of 90 Bristol Court began in August 1963, more than a year before it was go on the air. Revue Productions was behind the three sitcoms and Joseph Connolly would act as executive producer [2]. In its January 1964 issue, Television Magazine reported that the three sitcoms making up 90 Bristol Court would be Old Gang of Mine, Tom, Dick and Mary and Harris Against the World [3]. A fourth but unrelated sitcom from Revue, Karen, was also in the works for NBC [4].

A tentative NBC schedule for the 1964-1965 season, published in The New York Times in late January, showed 90 Bristol Court airing from 7:30-9PM on Monday evenings, followed by Monday Night at the Movies from 9-11PM. Karen was slotted in the 7-7:30PM time slot on Sunday, replacing The Bill Dana Show [5]. By March, however, Old Gang of Mine (also called That Old Gang of Mine) had been dropped and Karen would now start off 90 Bristol Court [6].

90 Bristol Court

Advertisement for 90 Bristol Court – October 5th, 1964
Copyright © The Chicago Tribune, 1964 [1]

Jennings Lang, chief of television production at Universal (into which Revue was being incorporated) felt the format of 90 Bristol Court allowed for “an extraordinary elasticity” because “each of the shows […] is a separate entity; a weak one can be removed and replaced by the simple expedient of having the family in question move; a hit show can be rescheduled out of Bristol Court” [7]. Indeed, Universal/Revue had a fourth Bristol Court show, The Trouble with Artie (which may have been another title for That Old Gang of Mine) ready to move into Bristol Court; it would star Arthur O’Connell and Kay Medford [8].

…Three Individual Shows

Debbie Watson, in her first television role, starred in Karen as sixteen-year-old Karen Scott, whose active social life often conflicted with her family life. Richard Denning and Mary La Roche played her parents, Steve and Barbara, while Gina Gillespie played her younger sister Mimi. Watson explained how she got the role:

“My agent said they’d already interviewed a hundred girls but they still hadn’t found Karen, so why didn’t I go and see about the part.

“My mother picked me up at school and I really didn’t want to go because my hair looked terrible. But you know what? They [Universal] signed me that day to two contracts, television and movie. I didn’t even make a screen test ’til a couple of weeks later.” [9]

Comparing herself to Karen, Watson said, “She has dates and she loves to drive. The lines are real easy to memorize because Karen seems to say the same things I say” [10].

In Tom, Dick and Mary, Don Galloway and Joyce Bulifant starred as newlyweds Tom and Mary Gentry while Steve Franken played Dick Moran, Tom’s best friend who moved in with the Gentrys at Bristol Court to help pay the rent. All three worked at the same hospital, Tom and Dick as interns and Mary as a secretary.

Tom, Dick and Mary - Tom Galloway, Joyce Bulifant and Steve Franken

Tom, Dick and Mary – Tom Galloway, Joyce Bulifant and Steve Franken

Jack Klugman, who won an Emmy award for his role in a January 1964 episode of The Defenders, wasn’t the obvious choice to play a harried father in Harris Against the World, as even he admitted:

“I signed to do the show before I got the Emmy. Of course I’d never have done it if the Emmy had come first.

“They offered me a firm commitment for 26 weeks, and I decided to take the show because it was important for me to get stabilized for awhile. I found I was spending at least half my life out here in Hollywood at a time when it was important for my boy, who is five, to have his father around.” [11]

Klugman would star in Harris Against the World as Alan Harris, who worked at a movie studio and had a difficult time juggling work with family. Patricia Barry played his wife, Kate, and Claire Wilcox and David Macklin played DeeDee and Billy, the Harris children.

Originally, the three sitcoms making up 90 Bristol Court were supposed to air in order of the main character’s ages. Thus, Karen would air first, then Tom, Dick and Mary and finally Harris Against the World. According to TV Guide, however, the producers decided to switch Tom, Dick and Mary with Harris Against the World because Tom, Dick and Mary “was more ‘sophisticated’ than [Harris Against the World] and better suited for the late hour” [12].

The Critics’ Views

The three sitcoms making up 90 Bristol Court were among the last new shows of the 1964-1965 season to premiere, bowing on Monday, October 5th. Critics were savage. Cecil Smith called 90 Bristol Court “as synthetic in concept as a $15 suit. You can almost hear the executive sessions as the show was put together” [13]. He also suggested that viewers “will probably choose the segment that fits their particular taste and turn to it as they would any other situation comedy” rather than watch all three [14].

Jack Gould hailed 90 Bristol Court as “a decided viewer convenience: It will be only necessary to tune out one program to skip three shows” [15]. Furthermore, according to Gould:

Not a jolt of originality in story, characterization or direction, attended any of the opening installments of “90 Bristol Court.” There was a hint on the premiere that the separate family groups might find their lives increasingly intertwined. Perhaps ultimately they will all sit down together to watch “Monday Night at the Movies.” [16]

Larry Wolters called 90 Bristol Court a “mess of unpalatable comic fodder” and then blasted all the networks, and NBC in particular, for relying too heavily on sitcoms:

Network TV bosses seem to be obsessed with the notion that there is nothing wrong with television that more situation comedies won’t cure. At NBC-TV they have gone a step further: They’re overdosing the viewer with three excursions into idiocy in a row, packaged into 90 minutes and labelled [sic] 90 Bristol Court. Mindful that already a score of new tasteless comedies had arrived earlier, NBC’s addition should come under the head of “cruel and inhuman punishment.” [17]

TV Guide‘s Cleveland Amory was slightly less brutal, writing that “none of the three shows is, by itself, terrible; but, with the exception of the middle one neither are they, on the average, strong enough to do anything more than grin and bore you” [18]. Of Karen, Amory stated that “in none of the episodes we’ve seen has there been a single redeeming feature, except the song about Karen at the beginning, and even that is reminiscent of a number of other shows” [19].

Harris Against the World - Jack Klugman and Patricia Barry

Harris Against the World – Jack Klugman and Patricia Barry – October 4th, 1964
Copyright © TV Magazine/The Houston Chronicle, 1964 [2]

Of Tom, Dick and Mary: “this show has, occasionally, some good nonsticky slapstick supplied by Mr. Franken” [20]. And of Harris Against the World: “Mr. Harris (Jack Klugman) has always been good, and sometimes wonderful. As for Mrs. Harris (Patricia Barry), she is fine. Remember, she not only puts up with all of Mr. Harris’s adversaries–but Mr. Harris, too” [21].

The Episodes

Aside from the occasional appearance of Guy Raymond as Bristol Court’s handyman, Cliff Murdock, the three sitcoms of 90 Bristol Court were totally separate. In the premiere of Karen, while looking for a blind date at the airport Karen mistakes one Italian for another and brings the wrong one home. In Harris Against the World, a secretary misplaces an important report. And in Tom, Dick and Mary, Tom and Mary convince Dick to spend the night in an empty apartment so they can have some privacy. But the empty apartment isn’t so empty.

Karen - Debbie Watson

Karen – Debbie Watson – October 4th, 1964
Copyright © TV Magazine/The Houston Chronicle, 1964 [3]

Later episodes of Karen saw the teenager banned from dating due to low grades, lose a bass drum while trying out for the school band, date a surfer, try to find her history teacher a boyfriend, and mistake her father’s innocent lunch with a beautiful divorcee for something far more sinister.

Additional episodes of Harris Against the World saw poor Alan Harris contend with his son deciding to quit high school, his wife hiring a maid who hates men, an expired driver’s license, a fifteen-year-long feud between his wife and her aunt, dancing lessons that lead to trouble with his wife, and the revival of a childhood feud.

In Tom, Dick and Mary, episodes saw Dick deciding to move out, Tom falling in love with a new microscope, Dick delivering his first baby only to have it abandoned, Tom and Mary trying to out practical joke Dick, Mary trying to find Dick a girlfriend, and Dick saving the life of a foreign patient who then proclaims himself Dick’s slave for life.

Peter Tewksbury wrote, directed and produced the November 23rd episodes of Karen, Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick and Mary, using the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau as a starting point [22]. On Karen, Thoreau influences Karen’s complicated love life when she accidentally makes three dates on one night. On Harris Against the World, Thoreau inspires Harris to take his family on a weekend fishing trip but an expired driver’s license leads to problems. And on Tom, Dick and Mary, Dick uses Thoreau when he tries to fix an electrical problem in the apartment, ruining Mary’s sorority party in the process.

90 Bristol Court Down To One

On October 31st, The Chicago Tribune reported that Debbie Watson was getting the most mail out of anyone connected to 90 Bristol Court, including 236 marriage proposals and three letters asking her to baby sit after just two episodes had aired [23]. Her popularity did nothing to help out the other two shows under the 90 Bristol Court banner, however. In mid-November, The New York Times reported that NBC was planning to cancel Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick and Mary effective early January [24].

Tom, Dick and Mary - Tom Galloway, Steve Franken and Joyce Bulifant

Tom, Dick and Mary – Tom Galloway, Steve Franken and Joyce Bulifant

TV Guide reported that for the two weeks ending November 22nd, 1964 (which included the November 9th and November 16th broadcasts of 90 Bristol Court) the show averaged below a 17 share, the bare minimum required to be called “a passing grade” [25]. NBC’s experiment in linking three sitcoms in one ninety-minute block was a failure.

Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick and Mary, which aired from 8-9PM, would be replaced by The Man from U.N.C.L.E., shifted from Tuesdays and itself replaced by a new show, Hullabaloo. Karen would continue to anchor NBC’s Monday night line-up at 7:30PM. The thirteenth and final broadcast of 90 Bristol Court took place on Monday, January 4th, 1965. The following week, Karen was broadcast as a standalone series. Gone was Guy Raymond as Cliff Murdock and any connection to the other two shows was severed.

According to Television Magazine, NBC’s Monday line-up had been a disaster, averaging an anemic 14.4/24 Nielsen rating during November to December, compared to a strong 20.1/34 for ABC and a 19.3/32 for CBS [26]. The only half-hour to win its time slot was the second half of The Andy Williams Show (and occasionally the second half of The Jonathan Winters Show; the shows alternated in the 9-10PM time slot), competing with The Bing Crosby Show on ABC and Many Happy Returns on CBS. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ran from 10-11PM against Ben Casey on ABC and Slattery’s People on CBS.

Based on those November to December Nielsen numbers, Tom, Dick and Mary ranked 86th out of 96 shows, Karen was 87th and Harris Against the World 91st [27]. Continuing Karen on its own was a mistake for NBC; the series ranked second to last in the Nielsens for its first two outings (January 11th and January 18th, 1965) [28]. NBC canceled Karen in February 1965 [29]. A total of 28 episodes were broadcast, with the last new episode airing on April 26th. Repeats were shown through August 30th; on September 13th Hullabaloo took over the 7:30-8PM Monday time slot.

After 90 Bristol Court

In late December 1964, TV Guide reported that after Harris Against the World was canceled, Jack Klugman decided to stay in Hollywood but had already turned down a role in another television series. Referring to Harris Against the World, Klugman said “I’ve walked away a little richer and a little wiser. After all, no one told me we were going to do ‘King Lear’ here” [26]. Klugman would find greater fame on television in The Odd Couple and Quincy M.E. during the 1970s and 1980s.

After Karen was canceled, Debbie Watson returned to television the following year in Tammy (based on the film series starring Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee) and in 1967 starred in Tammy and the Millionaire on the big screen before retiring from acting. Richard Denning, who played Karen’s father, would go on to co-star in Hawaii Five-O from 1968 to 1980.

Joyce Bulifant, Steve Franken and Don Galloway all stayed active in television following the end of Tom, Dick and Mary. Galloway had a co-starring role in Ironside from 1967 to 1975; Bulifant recurring roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Flo; Franken had guest roles in more than 100 television shows during the 1960s through the 1980s.

Works Cited:
1 Wolters, Larry. “Jo Stafford’s Show Just Another Rerun.” Chicago Tribune. 21 Aug. 1963: 24.
2 Adams, Val. “First Play by Odets For TV May Open the Boone Series.” New York Times. 17 Aug. 1963: 47.
3 “These Have the Inside Track.” Television Magazine. January 1964: 39.
4 Ibid.
5 Adams, Val. “32 New TV Shows Scheduled for Fall Season.” New York Times. 29 Jan. 1964: 67.
6 Adams, Val. “News of TV-Radio: A Laughing Matter.” New York Times. 15 Mar. 1964: X19.
7 Smith, Cecil.”New Shows from Factory.” Los Angeles Times. 27 Jul. 1964: A3.
8 Ibid.
9 MacMinn, Aleene. “Debbie-Karen: All the Same.” Los Angeles Times. 27 Sep. 1964: A2.
10 Ibid.
11 Lowry, Cynthia. “Jack Would Rather Switch than Fight.” Chicago Tribune. 16 Aug. 1964: W8.
12 Anderson, Walt. “TV Teletype: Hollywood.” TV Guide. 3 Oct. 1964: 28.
13 Smith, Cecil. “Three Shows at Same Address.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Oct. 1964: T3.
14 Ibid.
15 Gould, Jack. “3 N.B.C. Shows Share Single Address and Uniform Shortage of Originality.” New York Times. 6 Oct. 1964: 78.
16 Ibid.
17 Wolters, Larry. “90 Bristol Court Hits New Low in TV Fare.” Chicago Tribune. 7 Oct. 1964: D8.
18 Amory, Cleveland. “Review: 90 Bristol Court.” TV Guide. 21 Nov. 1964: 9.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 “Previews of Today’s TV.” Los Angeles Times. 23 Nov. 1964: C10.
23 Grant, Hank. “‘Slattery’ May Shift Time Slot; Too Good to Battle Ben Casey.” Chicago Tribune. 31 Oct. 1964: C12.
24 Adams, Val. “N.B.C. Plans Changes to Affect Time of 4 TV Shows in January.” New York Times. 14 Nov. 1964: 58.
25 “For the Record.” TV Guide. 19 Dec. 1964: A-1.
26 “Hindsight 65/65.” Television Magazine. March 1965: 32-35; 50-57.
27 Ibid.
28 “For the Record.” TV Guide. 20 Feb. 1965: A-3.
29 Adams, Val. “Telsun Puts Off Three U.N. Shows.” New York Times. 11 Feb. 1965: 79.
30 Dunne, John Gregory. “The Complete Schnook.” TV Guide. 26 Dec. 1964: 15-17.

Image Credits:
1 From The Chicago Tribune, October 5th, 1964, Page D19.
2 From The Houston Chronicle‘s TV Magazine, October 4th, 1964, Page 2.
3 From The Houston Chronicle‘s TV Magazine, October 4th, 1964, Cover.

Originally Published March 8th, 2009
Last Updated May 1st, 2018

10 Replies to “90 Bristol Court”

  1. “Tammy and the Millionaire” (1967) was actually an edited version [with new transition scenes] of four episodes of “TAMMY” (1965-’66) strung together to create a feature-length film {MCA did this constantly with most of their “one-season wonders” during the ’60s and ’70s, playing overseas, and sometimes domestically, in limited release}. After “TAMMY”, Debbie was recruited to play “Marilyn Munster” in Connelly & Mosher’s theatrical feature film version of “THE MUNSTERS”, “Munster, Go Home!” (1966). Then, Debbie co-starred, with Gil Peterson, in Warner Bros. “teen musical”, “The Cool Ones”, released in early 1967 [it must be seen to be believed]. The failure of that feature played a major factor in Debbie’s decision to retire from “the business”….

  2. ….the reason for 90 Bristol courts’ failure to appear in re -run mode was twofold//—-rights versus the bare fact that several other hits like((HAIRSPRAY) conspicuously cribbed story/situations from this series..>spare the embarrassment??– pk

  3. You have a few date errors here. 90 Bristol Court premiered October 5, 1964 [not October 4], the last full airing of all 3 sitcoms was January 4, 1965 [not 1964], and Karen’s 2nd solo airing was January 18 [not January 17].

    In a way, Hullabaloo ended up replacing all 3 of these sitcoms, since in addition to being a new show in January replacing Harris Against the World & Tom Dick and Mary, it shrank to 30 mins on NBC’s 1965-66 schedule and replaced Karen in the Monday 7:30 PM ET time slot.

  4. I’m surprised no mention got made about the theme to KAREN, especially as there’s a clip of it in the article: That this was performed by the Beach Boys.

    Before PET SOUNDS made them much more serious (and Brian Wilson was sidelined by his health issues) the group did a lot of film and TV work, taking a lot of gigs in Hollywood if a studio called and wanted them to perform. They even performed during the opening of Disney’s THE MONKEY’S UNCLE with Annette Funicello, a performance that seems especially strange knowing what the decades ahead would lead to…

  5. Another instance (see: The Virginian on Wednesdays) of NBC saying “screw the Mountain Time Zone.” A 90min show at 7:30 ET followed by a two-hour movie at 9. And you don’t have four tape machines (three primaries/one backup) to assign solely to net delay, to DB everything an hour.

    But wait! (Of course, NBC would have to approve you “breaking up” 90 Bristol Court, but…) Run 8:30-9 ET live 6:30-7 MT; delay 7:30-8:30 ET to 7-8 MT; air Hitch 10-11 ET live from 8-9 MT; then Andy Williams 9-10 ET delayed from 9-10 MT. You air all of 90 Bristol Court “together,” just not in the network order. Assuming all three were half-hour sitcoms for the half-hour timeslots, and not +/- a few minutes over or under.

    And this scenario never would have worked on Wednesday nights in the ’60s, because you couldn’t have run The Virginian out of sequence!

    This whole rip it up and put it back together scenario is what KOOL-TV Phoenix did with the CBS Wednesday night schedule in the mid-60s.

    1. There was an interesting article about tv in the Mountain Time Zone in the TV Guide issue for March 18, 1972. “The Time Zone Television Forgot” was all about how much nonsense went on with network television in the Mountain Time Zone, including having a live news conference followed by a taped network newscast which speculated on what would be said during the [then] future news conference. Beyond the problem of having to run network primetime shows on a 1-hour tape delay, MT ran all daytime programming in pattern with ET/CT times, so game shows that ran starting at 10 AM ET/9 AM CT had to be taped at 8 AM MT, on NBC anyway, since THE TODAY SHOW was carried 7-9 AM in all time zones. The article also mentioned that programs like the network newscasts would be updated by West Coast news staffs for the benefit of the West Coast Pacific Time Zone (and I assume Alaska & Hawaii too). Stations in Arizona had an additional problem in that they stayed on Mountain Standard Time (no daylight saving time) all year round, so they’d have to delay shows on their own an hour more (though maybe they could’ve carried network primetime 8-11 PM MST and match Pacific Daylight Time programming times. The article quoted a network exec stating how MT (“…and God bless the wonderful people who live there…”) had such a small part of the US population, estimated at 8% at the time, that it wasn’t profitable for the networks to give them any special consideration.

  6. Connally & Mosher were the creators of Amos & Andy and Leave it to Beaver. They may have thought “Karen” would be a female version of “Beaver”. It might have succeeded on it’s own.

  7. Designing the strand so that the shows could stand their own may explain why “Tom, Dick and Mary” got sold to British TV without the other two.

  8. oh?…. correct me if I’m wrong but you tube or other video sources have failed to even come up with the series ORIGINAL PRELuDE JAZZY INTRO—jumping in the swimming pool flashes of characters with little hint of their homes or interiors.. ……..that music credit and vocal/over opening credits paled by a competing PATTY DUKE SHOW ( who’s vocal credits were never assigned…._

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