The idea behind The Odd Couple
— pairing a boorish slob with an uptight roommate — is so fundamental to television comedy, it's easy to overlook who perfected the template. Variations on the formula continue to click today, from Two and a Half Men
and Two Broke Girls
to, well, the current reboot of The Odd Couple
. Yet when someone says, "The Odd Couple," odds are the characters molded by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman pop into mind.
Of course, the story of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger began on Broadway in 1965 with Neil Simon's landmark play. Walter Matthau and Art Carney first embodied the roles. Since then, various productions have cast actors as diverse as Martin Short, Jamie Farr and Pat Sajak. Yet, as you can see every Sunday night on MeTV, nobody matches the chemistry of Randall and Klugman.
And to think, the pairing came close to never happening…
1. Dean Martin and Mickey Rooney were considered as leads
Randall pushed for Rooney to play his counterpart. Producer Garry Marshall was in Klugman's corner. While it's hard to imagine the tone being the same with Rooney as Oscar, that's not quite the stretch of imagination required to wonder what might have happened if Dean Martin had landed the part of Felix. His name was tossed around, along with the original performer, Art Carney.
2. Famous cartoon voices appeared on the show
Bill Woodson, the voice you hear in the opening credits, became a staple of Saturday mornings as the narrator on the Super Friends
cartoon. Once you learn that, it's seems quite obvious. However, you might not catch a couple Peanuts
stepping into live-action roles. Pamelyn Ferdin, the voice of Lucy Van Pelt, plays Felix's daughter, Edna. Christpher Shea, the boy behind her animated brother Linus, appears as Phillip, a neighbor's son, in a few episodes as well.
3. There was a cartoon knockoff called 'The Oddball Couple'
Speaking of toons, after the sitcom ended an unofficial homage popped up on Saturday mornings on ABC. Spiffy and Fleabag are Felix and Oscar analogs in cat and dog form, naturally.
4. The Odd Couple promoted products together
"You play your way — I'll play mine," Randall and Klugman proclaimed on the packing of Challenge Yahtzee. Their faces appeared on the box for years. The two also starred in a long-running series of commercials for Eagle Snacks
, which played up the look and stereotypes of their onscreen characters while using their real names.
5. It was the last Friday night sitcom to be nominated for an Emmy
In the 1980s, the end of the work week became a landscape for comfort-food family sitcoms ("TGIF" and the like) and hour-long action. When The Odd Couple received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1974, it would be the last time a Friday sitcom earned such an honor. In 1991, Burt Reynolds won a trophy for his part on Evening Shade
, which briefly aired on Friday in its first season, but the show itself failed to grab a nom.
6. Penny Marshall's family appears together in an episode
Before Laverne, Penny Marshall was secretary Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple
. In the episode "The Rain in Spain," Myrna marries Sheldn ("They forgot the 'o' on his birth certificate"), who was played by her real-life husband at the time, Rob Reiner. Additionally, her siblings Garry Marshall and Ronny Marshall pop up as Myrna's brother and sister, Werner and Verna Turner.
7. It was on the chopping block after every season
Despite its resonating influence, The Odd Couple
was not a ratings success. At the end of each season, the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. Yet the modest success of summer reruns proved its worth, saving it year after year. Well, until it was axed in 1975. Because of its state of peril, the show changed here and there. Initially, it was titled Neil Simon's The Odd Couple
. And the production method was drastically altered as well…
8. The first season was filmed with one camera, the rest with three
In its inaugural season, the sitcom was filmed with one camera. This gives season one a more cinematic style — and a laugh track. Randall was no fan of the faux yucks. Subsequent seasons were filmed in the three-camera sitcome technique, before a live studio audience.
9. Actor Richard Stahl appears in nine episodes as nine different characters
The character actor worked minor roles in dozens upon dozens of sitcoms in the 1970s and 1980s. On The Odd Couple alone, he showed up nine times, as nine unique people. That must be close to some kind of record. Stahl finally scored a significant role in the short-lived It's A Living
in the early '80s.