Comedy genius Neil Simon's 1965 hit Broadway play starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix, (with prophetically, Jack Klugman later taking over the Oscar role from Matthau), before becoming an Academy Award winning movie in 1968, with Matthau recreating his Broadway triumph as Oscar, and the incomparable Jack Lemmon as Felix, The Odd Couple came to television with a prestigious pedigree. It made the equally successful transition to television in 1970 on the ABC network and remained one of ABC's comedy mainstays for the next five years.
Produced by Garry Happy Days Marshall, with no direct involvement from original creator Neil Simon, the basic concept of the series is neatly encapsulated by the following words from the voice over narration, which was run over the opening credits of each episode: "On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"
Luckily for the consistently faithful viewing audience which the series attracted almost from the outset, the answer to that question was...no.
The series wisely retained the catchy and memorable theme music originally composed for the 1968 movie version, by Neal Hefti, who also composed that all time classic theme of 60's cult TV, the theme for Batman. Although the all-important chemistry between stars Jack Klugman as the laid back, slobbish sportswriter Oscar Madison and Tony Randall's priggish, uptight, allergy prone photographer, Felix Unger was instantaneous and engaging, the show's opening season was markedly different from what was to follow. The producers opted to film it utilising a single camera, with a recorded laughter track taking the place of a studio live audience. Also, the season saw the inclusion of many of the characters from the original play, including the dizzy but good-hearted Pigeon Sisters (Monica Evans and Carol Shelly, reprising the roles they created for the movie version), and Oscar and Felix's mismatched group of regular poker playing buddies.
The beginning of season two saw the show restructured and consolidated into its final, winning format, with the elimination from a regular basis of all of the preceding year's recurring characters except for Murray Greshner, Oscar's cop friend, (Al Molinaro, later to find fame in Happy Days), and the characters of Vinnie and Speed who were to feature occasionally in some of the later episodes. From a technical standpoint, the show was now filmed in front of a live studio audience, and employed the now standard three cameras for filming, along with a newly redesigned set from the couple's Manhattan apartment.
Another interesting oddity of the earlier episodes is the fact that ABC refused to allow the characters to have children as had been established in both the play and the movie. According to ABC practice standards at the time, it was perceived wisdom that divorced people weren't allowed to be seen to have children in any of their shows, as it was feared it would undermine traditional American family values. Although later, as social trends prevailed, ABC executives relented somewhat and allowed the show's writer's to acknowledge the fact that Felix did indeed, have children.
Although the series never managed to secure a place within the top 25 shows in the Neilsen ratings, it nevertheless notched up an impressive 114 episodes by the end of its long run. While 1993 saw the winning partnership of Randall and Klugman once again reunited for a TV special called The Odd Couple: Together Again. A new version, The New Odd Couple starring black actors Ron Glass and Desmond Wilson was screened in the USA between 1982-83, and yet another revival turned up on our screens in 2015 starring former Friends actor Matthew Perry (who also developed and executive produced the series) and Thomas Lennon as Oscar and Felix, respectively. There was even an animated version featuring a tidy cat and a lazy dog, entitled The Oddball Couple.
Published on January 15th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH (2000 updated 2019) for Television Heaven.