what i'm watching: two random observations arising from watching a tv show from my childhood

In September, I blogged about watching "Bewitched" on Netflix as my "comedy before sleep" show. I'm still watching it, sometimes taking as many as three nights to get through one episode, so potent is this sleep aid. I want to share two random observations based on Bewitched.

People on TV have whiter teeth now.

I always notice teeth and smiles, and it was immediately apparent that the teeth of every actor on Bewitched is dull and off-white, compared to the gleaming white teeth seen on TV shows today.

This is obviously down to tooth-whitening technology. But it must mean that everyone on TV now is having their teeth whitened, that tooth-whitening has become one more appearance enhancer that is expected of actors and aspiring actors - one more way that TV does not reflect reality.

The difference is quite striking. No one with the kind of teeth I see on Bewitched would be allowed on TV today, except as guests on a Jerry Springer-esque show.

The other observation is about the two Darrins. Bewitched fans know there is the original Darrin, played by Dick York, and "the other Darrin," an expression now synonymous with casting failure, played by Dick Sargent.

As I've been plowing through Bewitched episodes, I've been awaiting the appearance of Darrin II. I purposely didn't look up when the switch occurred, wanting to be surprised. I noticed in Season 5 that Darrin was getting less screen time, and sometimes disappeared for entire episodes, "in Chicago" on business. I assumed this was a bad omen for Darren the First.

Then one day, in the cold open, Samantha calls to her husband, he turns around to face the camera... and there he is: the other Darrin. It's the first episode of Season 6. Elizabeth Montgomery has new, above-the-title billing, David White (Larry Tate) has Endora-style billing in the opening credits, and the theme song has been shortened. (Attention spans were dropping, even back then.) Thus begins Darrin the Second.

It now strikes me as very strange that a show would cast a new actor in a major supporting role, rather than write the character out of the show. I was wondering if any contemporary shows have done this, and found this: 25 Casting Fails on TV that They Expected Us Not to Notice. Many of these examples are character voicings, and many mark the disappearance of a minor character. A few are actual casting changes. But none, to my knowledge, are as major a character as Darrin was on Bewitched.

These casting changes used to happen on daytime soaps all the time, and perhaps still do. (I haven't watched daytime soaps since high school.) A voice would intone, "The part of Joe Smith is now being played by Jamie Joe-White," a new actor would enter the scene, and that would be that. The most famous instance I can think of was on a nighttime soap: when Barbara Bel Geddes was replaced by Donna Reed on "Dallas". This was an unmitigated disaster; the network was forced to concede a better contract to Bel Geddes and put her back on the show.

Does this happen anymore for major characters? On Seinfeld, Jerry's father was originally played by a different actor, as was Pam's mother on The Office. But both were minor roles. I'm wondering if any contemporary sitcoms have changed the actor playing a major role, rather than getting rid of the character.

I'm also wondering if people who watched Bewitched in real time would have known that Dick York was being replaced by Dick Sargent. Would it have been reported in some entertainment media - not in a trade publication like Variety, but in the entertainment section of local newspapers? Or did everyone just turn on their TVs and experience the shock of The Other Darrin?


James Redekop said...

These days, they'd get rid of the original husband character with a divorce or by having him killed off -- but, of course, you couldn't do that back in the days of Bewitched.

Probably the most extreme example of replacing the lead actor in TV is Doctor Who. When the original actor playing the alien Doctor, William Hartnell, started having health problems, the BBC wrote in a mechanism by which the character could heal himself from near death by regenerating with a completely new appearance (in this case, that of Patrick Troughton). Regeneration not only became part of the show's lore, it's become a major plot-point in many stories.

Since the series started in 1963, thirteen actors have played the Doctor in the TV series, including John Hurt, and there have been several stories featuring multiple Doctors at once ("The Three Doctors", "The Five Doctors", "The Two Doctors", and "Day of the Doctor").

Five actors played the character in a BBC charity spoof, Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death (Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, and Joanna Lumley as the Doctor), and Peter Cushing has played him in two movie spin-offs.

laura k said...

These days, they'd get rid of the original husband character with a divorce or by having him killed off -- but, of course, you couldn't do that back in the days of Bewitched.

Exactly! I thought this was actually a quote from this post, but I guess I thought this and didn't include it. :)

And oh yes, the Doctor. I hadn't thought outside the sitcom format. Very good.

James Redekop said...

Wikipedia has a page on the topic, of course. Many of the examples are casting changes between the pilot and the series ("Faceman" from A-Team was Tim Dunigan in the pilot, Dirk Benedict in the series), but there are some other mid-series changes.

Bewitched apparently had several changes: Darrin, Gladys Kravitz, Tabitha Stphens, and Louise Tate all changed actors.

Some from shows I have watched:

Catwoman from the 60s Batman was played by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt (and Lee Meriwether in the movie). The Riddler was Frank Gorshin and John Astin, and Mr Freeze was George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach.

MASH had a couple -- Father Mulcahy and Donald Penobscott both had two actors.

Doctor Who has others besides the Doctor, as well: The Master has been played by nine actors, Romana by two, and Davros by four. The Master and Romana both regenerated like the Doctor, and Davros is always under heavy makeup. River Song was played by four as well, but those were infant River, child River, teen River, and adult River, so that's somewhat different.

laura k said...

Right... but I'm asking about current shows. Bewitched and MASH, yes, in those days it was not uncommon.

But it seems to me that these days a main character would not get that treatment.

Eg, on Downton Abbey, when the actor playing Matthew wanted out of the series, he was killed off. On Dallas, they would have been just as likely to change actors.

James Redekop said...

There are a few contemporary shows on the Wikipedia page, but I think most of the examples -- with the exception of Doctor Who -- are child/adult versions of the character. But I don't know enough about contemporary TV shows to be sure...

James Redekop said...

Just for the fun of it, here are all of the Doctors (except for the most recent) as they appeared at the end of the 50th Anniversary Special in 2013.

William Hartnell (1) in the back, then (left to right): Patrick Troughton (2), Tom Baker (4), Colin Baker (6), Paul McGann (8), John Hurt (War), Matt Smith (11), David Tennant (10), Chrisopher Eccleston (9), Sylvester McCoy (7), Peter Davidson (5), and Jon Pertwee (3).

Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor, but only his eyes & angry eyebrows appeared in the 50th Anniversary Special.

Cid said...

I remember the episode of "Roseanne" when the actress playing the second Becky was watching "Bewitched" and says something like, "I always liked the second Darren better." Clever way to acknowledge the change.

Rough Canuk said...

Yes, I remember it being announced and discussed the change of actor for the part of Darrin. As broadcast TV was a cultural staple and Bewitched being one of the most popular shows, something like this occurring was cause for a lot of speculation on how much the show would change and if it would survive. As Bewitched could already be considered in decline as a series by many fans, the new Darrin only confirmed that it was getting worse.

James Redekop said...

Oh, one more fun point about how Doctor Who replacing actors: the latest actor to play "The Master" (a role first played by Robert Delgato in 1971) is Michelle Gomez, which probably makes this the the only example of character being taken over by an actor of the opposite sex.

There's been a little grumbling, but from what I can tell, the reaction is overall quite positive. In fact, I've seen more grumbling about how this probably makes it less likely for the next Doctor to be a woman, than about how the Master shouldn't be a woman.

This all came to mind just now when I tripped over this blog post about the Michelle Gomez Master and how the change helped a trans fan.

laura k said...

Rough Canuck, thanks for that! Awesome that this post found someone who remembers it in real time. Thanks!

Cid, that is very cool. I forgot there were two Beckys. That's a good example of a cast change with a clever, postmodern wink to the audience.

laura k said...

which probably makes this the the only example of character being taken over by an actor of the opposite sex.

I saw on some Star Trek TOS site that (technically speaking) Kirk was played by a woman, in that awful episode where the hysterical woman takes over Kirk's body. That doesn't count!

laura k said...

No one cares about the relative whiteness of teeth. I kind of thought Imp Strump might like that one.

James Redekop said...

Yeah, body-switching is yet another thing. The episode you're thinking of is Turnabout Intruder, the last episode of the original series to be aired, and generally regarded as one of the worst.

laura k said...

I remember reading about it when I re-watched the original series a couple of years ago. Besides bad writing, hideous sexism.

Kristina H said...

Interesting about the teeth. The kids and I are watching "Little House on the Prairie" and poor Laura's teeth are a wreck compared to how they would've fixed them up nowadays. I suspect that, in spite of there being minimal dental care in the era the show was set, if actors were being cast today they would have nice teeth.

laura k said...

So you noticed it, too!

I suspect that, in spite of there being minimal dental care in the era the show was set, if actors were being cast today they would have nice teeth.

If they wanted to work on any other shows, they'd have to have better teeth. Then the Little House producers could make their teeth look cruddy, Austin Powers style.

I used to love Little House, btw.