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The TV That Time Forgot: Ozzie and Harriet

Anyone who knows TV history knows that Seinfeld pulled one of the biggest con jobs in American broadcasting history with their claim that they were “A show about nothing.” Every single episode had a main plot and secondary plot (A and B plots in TV jargon) – just like every episode of every sit-com on the air at the time.

The REAL “show about nothing?” Well, that was unquestionably The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Never has the word “adventure” been so misused!

Jerry Seinfeld had a job – he was a stand-up comic. We even got to see him doing his job once and awhile. Ozzie Nelson had no job that we could ever discern. He was always roaming around his house, getting in the way of Harriet. How they kept the lights on with no paycheck is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our age!

And what plots did Ozzie & Harriet ever have? Harriet bakes a cake for the school bake sale. Ozzie eats a piece and then tries to blame Ricky? It makes “The Puffy Shirt” seem like “Of Mice &Men.”

And Jerry was the only one on his show playing himself. On Ozzie & Harriet, the whole family played themselves. The opening credits were ridiculously redundant: “Here’s Ozzie, playing Ozzie Nelson… Here’s Harriet, paying Harriet Nelson…” and so forth.

How weird must it have been for David Nelson and Ricky to grow up playing pretend versions of themselves. The quiet middle class lifestyle they portrayed on the show was nothing like the wealthy Hollywood lifestyle they really were living.

In the early days, when they boys were younger, most of the plots involved Ozzie and his neighbor, Thorny (played by Don DeFoe, who later turned up as Hazel’s boss).

As the boys grew, the plots centered more around Rick and his college life, including his best buddy, Wally Plumstead.

The show was a favorite for so long, not because it had clever plots and not really for the humor (because it was never that funny). It was popular because it portrayed family life in post-war America not as it was, but as we thought it should be.

The JFK assassination and the turmoil of the 1960’s shattered that illusion. Ozzie & Harriet went off the air in 1966, capping a 14-year run on television (and even a number of years on radio before shifting to TV).

Today, the show is chiefly important for launching the career of one of rock’s great early artists, Rick Nelson. It was widely believed at the time that the only reason Rick became successful was because of the weekly exposure he got on the show. And certainly, many other shows thought they could copy the formula.

Patty Duke, Shelly Fabres, Paul Peterson, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, Connie Stevens, Annette Funicello and others all hit the recording studio. But nearly all of them were one or two-hit wonders and went back to concentrating on their acting careers. Rick kept playing music – assembling an impressive string of hit records in the pre-Beatles era and then scoring two more hits (a cover of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and his own “Garden Party”) in the latter half of the Sixties.

And why not? By the time Ozzie & Harriet had become a television mainstay, people had forgotten that Ozzie was a big band leader and Harriet had once been his band’s featured vocalist. The lad came by his musical ability honestly.

Rick was still recording and performing right up until his untimely death in a plane crash in 1985. He earned a well-deserved place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

If you really must watch the show, many, many of the episodes are available on both public domain discs and officially sanctioned home video collections.

BTW – Ozzie managed to crank out 435 shows about nothing, Seinfeld only made it to 180.

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