I did a bunch of posts a couple months back about why the show "Bewitched" was so good in its first season (when Danny Arnold was in charge of the writing). I am still stubbornly fond of this post about how a bad "Bewitched" script was rewritten into a good one by Arnold and co-producer Jerry Davis. But the posts were sort of hampered by the fact that I couldn't post clips from the episodes. Now I can, so I thought I'd post a few samples of what made "Bewitched" work in its first season.
First, the post about the episode "A is For Aardvark" has been updated with two key clips from the episode: the scene where Darrin decides he wants to live off his wife's witchcraft after all, and the scene where he realizes that's not what Samantha wants or what he wants. As I said in an earlier post, this story was important enough to the show that it was sort of brought back from the dead: a script was written around this premise, it didn't work out, but Arnold saved the premise and some story points and had writer Earl Barret write a new script around the same idea. It's the essential "Bewitched" episode for the way it definitively addresses and resolves the biggest issue on the show (why does Samantha put up with this jerk who won't let her use her natural talents?). It's also a model of how to do a "bottle show," an episode that saves money by using the bare minimum of sets and cast members. The whole episode takes place in the house and there's no one in it except the four regulars (Sam, Darrin, Endora and Larry), but if it was done that way to save some money, it sure doesn't lose anything for that reason; it gains from being done without any outside characters or sets.
And here are three clips from season 1 episodes that illustrate how Arnold and his other writers were trying to keep the magic element to a minimum and find fantasy equivalents for real-life problems.
"Mother Meets What's-His-Name" (written by Arnold) -- when a couple is in a "mixed marriage," what happens when the bride's mother meets her son-in-law for the first time? And what happens if she expresses her disapproval of the way he's making her daughter assimilate into his culture: "What is normal to you, young man, is to us asinine!"
From "Eye of the Beholder" -- Darrin asks Samantha the familiar real-life question of how old she is, and goes through the familiar real-life fear that she won't love him when he gets old and decrepit. The fact that his worry stems from the fact that she might be several centuries old is almost beside the point. (This is another episode that was heavily rewritten from the scriptwriter's original version; the original draft was about Samantha deciding to grow old along with her husband, but Arnold or Jerry Davis rewrote it to be about Darrin accepting the fact that Samantha won't grow old, and declaring that it doesn't matter -- Darrin didn't become a raving selfish pig until the show went to colour.)
And from "The Witches Are Out" (written by Bernard Slade, his first sitcom script, though he'd written a lot of variety shows in Canada), the down-to-earth problem of Samantha objecting to the stereotypical way her group is portrayed in popular culture:
The point of all this, I guess, is that in a weird way the first season of "Bewitched" was one of the most realistic shows on the air: at a time when comedy and drama alike were mostly doing wacky fantasy stories, Arnold and Davis took a wacky fantasy premise and used it to tell fairly realistic stories about relationships.
Incidentally, TV.com has a little biographical information on freelance writer Earl Barret. He wrote the "A is For Aardvark" script, but more than that, he's one of those freelance writers whose scripts (in a time when the credited writer usually had more to do with the finished episodes than today) always seemed to be really good, often better than the level of the show or season he was writing for. He came back to "Bewitched" in the third season -- the first colour season -- to write an episode that was leaps and bounds ahead of any other episode in that season; and in the second season of "The Bob Newhart Show," the one episode he wrote is quite a bit better than most episodes from that season and really makes something three-dimensional and interesting out of the marriage of Bob and Emily. I wouldn't go too far in evaluating his work (he did co-create "Too Close For Comfort," after all), but if you're watching an old show and he has the writing credit, the episode is probably worth watching.