Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Li'l Abner Meets The Beverly Hillbillies, Which Already Met It

This has been on the 'Tube for over a year, but I only just saw it: three excerpts from an unsold 1966 pilot for a Li'l Abner series, with the script credited to Al Capp himself. The producer, Howard Leeds, was at the beginning of a long and illustrious career of working on bad sitcoms, culminating in his creation of the worst of them all, Small Wonder. The pilot was made for NBC, which rejected it, and rejected it again when it was re-submitted the following year.

Abner is played by perennial not-quite-star Sammy Jackson; Jeannine Riley, who had just quit Petticoat Junction because she thought it wasn't letting her grow as an actress, wound up playing Daisy Mae, because that's so much better than playing a sexy blonde hick. Judy Canova is Mammy Yokum, and Robert Reed turns up.

It's not much of a show, and visually ugly even by the low standards of 1966 (visually speaking, there have been few worse times in television than just after every show switched to color). Though the idea of doing a Beverly Hillbillies type of show based on Li'l Abner must have seemed like a good bet, given how much Beverly Hillbillies borrowed from Capp. But with that show, like any hit sitcom, you liked the characters and wanted to hang out with them. Capp is a misanthrope and holds his characters in contempt, and that always comes through in any version of the story; I think one reason the musical version was the only successful adaptation is that the songs help to soften the characters and make them easier to like.


Yowp said...

Jaime, since I'm sure you really wanted to know, the opening, completely unsuitable theme is PE-296 HI KIDS by Phil Green, Geoff Love and Ken Thorne from the Hi-Q library (originally EMI Photoplay cues). I imagine producers used it as a temporary bed with the idea they'd commission a proper theme if the pilot sold.


J Lee said...

The 1966 pilot came at a time when Capp's ideological positions were shifting from left to right, in the wake of the changes in the culture in the 1960s. That doesn't mean he wasn't sneering and holding his ideological opponents in contempt on both sides of his ideological shift; just that had the show actually been green-lighted, it would have been interesting to see where it would have gone in the pre-All in the Family era, when TV shows had to be as bland as possible and Capp was becoming increasingly at odds with much of the pop culture world and the people/politicians who produced and supported it, as opposed to the 40s and 50s, when his targets were more of the status quo types and the people/politicians who supported them.