How is it that a twitching television sitcom – which debuted more than fifty years ago – still spellbinds long-time fans while conjuring up a new generation of viewers? Oh, my stars, Durwood, the answer is really quite simple: It’s magic!
Bewitched – the iconic series which starred the beguiling Elizabeth Montgomery as a saucy sorceress and Dick York as her vexed husband – may appear somewhat dated. But the comedic storylines are timeless and well worth a second look. And a third. Maybe more. Adam-Michael James – the author of The Bewitched Continuum: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic TV Series – has looked at Bewitched. A lot. James discovered Bewitched when he was eight years old. And just like that, his life has never been the same.
“I remember coming home from school,” said James, “and turning on the television and finding this fascinating show. This would have been in 1977, when the show was in syndication. I was a good kid, but if I missed an episode, I had a bit of a meltdown, which probably exasperated my parents. This was in the days before VCRs became commonplace, so my dad taught me how to record the audio portion on cassette tapes. I would listen to those tapes over and over again. That’s how far back my research goes.”
At 600-plus pages, The Bewitched Continuum is certainly well researched. Every one of the 254 episodes is briefly described, then compared and contrasted with previous episodes. Continuity concerns are crisply noted, both where they appear to move seamlessly and where questions of incongruous plot points and oversights come into play. Minutia abounds in The Bewitched Continuum, but don’t worry – this is no dryly executed tome. In many parts, the book had this reporter literally laughing out loud.
How funny are the flubs? Consider some of these gems from season one:
> Louise Tate calls Samantha to say she is on her way over, then arrives a mere 44 seconds later.
> For a Christmas Eve trip to the North Pole, Samantha flies with Darrin and an orphan boy on a broom. Fine – except that a few episodes earlier, Endora told Darrin mortals only think that witches fly on brooms.
> When Darrin gets the hiccups during a sales pitch, there is a sales chart on his easel. After a cutaway, the shot comes back to Darrin, but now there’s a campaign slogan on the easel. Another cutaway and the sales chart is back. Only after Larry gives Darrin a glass of water does Darrin remove the sales chart to expose the ad slogan underneath.
“I have been a student of continuity for a while. I always found it fascinating to look at TV or movies under that lens. I also write an opinion column for Soapcentral.com about The Bold and the Beautiful, so I’ll look for the continuity there, too.
“There was a Star Trek continuity book which came out, sometime in the 90’s. They would take each episode and look at things, like how the technology matched up with the technology presented in another episode or contrasts in Picard’s character – things like that. I had that on my mind, so one day I began looking at the continuity in Bewitched. Starting with episode #1, I wondered, ‘How would this match up if you looked at each episode back-to-back?’ Remember, back in the day, continuity was not as big a deal because an episode would air once, maybe twice in reruns over the summer. They knew they could change a rule or use a different character actor, things like that. Now with shows like Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, they are very specific with their continuity. They’ll refer to previous episodes all of the time, but they didn’t do that back in the era of Bewitched. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to look for continuity in Bewitched because it hadn’t been done yet.
“All of the other books out there deal with the behind the scenes aspects, but there was nothing that really dealt with what you see on the screen. With the 50th anniversary of the show in 2014, I figured if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. That’s what finally got me doing it. The end result was a huge book, but it truly was a labor of love.”
James noted that, with the passing of time, many of the people associated with Bewitched are now gone. Two series regulars (Alice Pearce, who played the snoopy Mrs. Kravitz, and Marion Lorne, who appeared as somewhat befuddled Aunt Clara) died while the show was still in production. Both actresses were awarded posthumous Emmy Awards.
Stars Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Agnes Moorehead, David White and Dick Sergeant have all passed away, as has Paul Lynde, who played unpredictable Uncle Arthur. However, some of the younger supporting actors and guest stars (Bill Mumy, Erin Murphy and Diane Murphy) still survive, as does Bernard Fox, who portrayed Dr. Bombay, and character actor Bernie Kopell. Kopell appeared in six different episodes of Bewitched, playing a psychiatrist, an apothecary, and a groovy warlock. James got the chance to meet Kopell at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention.
“I don’t usually get star-struck, but when I saw Bernie I thought, ‘OMG – it’s the apothecary. What am I gonna say to this man?’ I did get a chance to meet Erin Murphy and that was fun. Of course, I would have loved to have met Elizabeth Montgomery.”
What kind of feedback has James been getting from fans of the show?
“The feedback on the book has been great. People like to be able to sit down with the show and dig into it a bit further – particularly if they are more intense fans. But the book is also good for the more casual fan because it opens the door to delve into each episode much further. People like the amount of detail I’ve provided in this book. They like the trivia, too. I’ve provided biographical notes for each character. That’s made it wonderful to talk with other fans who follow the show on that level. Usually, when you like something that much, you develop an isolated feeling, so to attend a nostalgia show like the one in Baltimore and meet others who care about Bewitched in a similar way has been wonderful.”
We wondered if tracking the trivial details of Bewitched has given James a different perspective on the show?
“It does. It didn’t affect the way the book came out, because my compendium is simply about the characters. But knowing that Dick York had back problems and was in so much pain that he eventually left the show and was replaced by Dick Sargent? Yes – it has changed the way I view the show. I notice now the episodes where Dick York is absent, or in some cases lying down for most of the show. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for him having this ‘The show must go on’ attitude. With everything he was going through, he still showed up for work.”
We asked James what he would say if he could roll the clock back and speak with the cast.
“Wow – I’ve never thought of that. I guess I would just like to thank Elizabeth and her husband (show producer William) Bill Asher for giving us this iconic show. The thing with celebrities is, you always wonder, ‘What can I ask them that they haven’t already been asked a million times before?’ I would NOT ask her to twitch her nose, because she got that all of the time, and it probably drove her up a tree.”