Only David Levy could be trusted to bring The Addams Family to TV
Here’s everything you never knew about the only TV producer Charles Addams trusted.
If there’s one person history often forgets to thank for the enduring legacy of The Addams Family, it’s David Levy.
The executive producer credited for developing the series for television was perhaps the only person in TV history who could’ve got the series made.
The story goes that many producers approached Charles Addams about potential TV adaptations, but none of them convinced the comic creator that they truly understood what his macabre cartoons were really all about.
Then David Levy came along. Levy was a huge fan of Charles’ comics, and when Addams saw his treatment of the TV pilot, instead of sticking his thumbs down, he was instantly sold on Levy’s accurate interpretation.
Soon, Addams and Levy were holed up in meetings, filling in key details like names of the family members and aspects of their family history.
Levy also worked with The Addams Family star John Astin to fully develop the character of Gomez Addams. For Astin, these character meetings were all about selling Levy that he was the correct man to fill Gomez’s shoes after Levy originally saw Astin as a possible Lurch.
So who is this David Levy, who cracked Charles Addams’ will to never make a TV adaptation of his comic? Who helped bring Gomez Addams and his kooky family to life?
Starting in 1959, Levy had served as vice president for programming at NBC. His time at the network followed a successful career in radio.
While VP, he produced sensational TV, introducing huge audiences to hit shows like Bonanza and special late-night TV personalities, even credited as instrumental in making the legend Johnny Carson host of The Tonight Show.
In the Sixties, though, Levy started writing, authoring a popular novel in 1964 called The Chameleons, which depicted a big-time TV network at odds with the U.S. Senate.
He seemed to be stepping out from the executive chair and hoping to get more involved in the writing side of hit shows.
That very same year, he got the idea to adapt The Addams Family to TV, and he also attempted to launch Marlo Thomas as the star of a sitcom called Two’s Company.
While The Addams Family became a hit, the pilot for Two’s Company was aired as a TV movie, and ultimately, was never picked up. Two years later, Thomas would star in That Girl.
Levy was a producer who recognized talent, took chances and stood by his ideas, success or failure.
When reviews for The Addams Family started coming out, saying the series followed a family of monsters, Levy puffed his chest out.
He defended the series again and again, heatedly demonstrating the same understanding of what the family was really all about, which was the very thing that had given Charles Addams confidence that Levy could make the series work in the first place.
Levy would tell reporters that critics got the series all wrong, insisting The Addams Family was "normal" and had "real hearts," exhibiting an exemplary display of family love and sentiment, and setting "an example of good living and togetherness seldom matched in modern society."
As a seriously huge Charles Addams fan, he had gotten deep into his understanding of The Addams Family lore.
"We may assume that at one time the entire world was populated by Addams-type people," Levy told the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1965. "Our characters are the last remaining members of this once-proud clan. Their traditions will be handed down and sustained through The Addams Family and their offspring."
After The Addams Family ended, Levy went on to create another completely original TV show that only he could make work, the often-forgotten Seventies series Sarge.
The idea for Sarge was to show a former police officer who, after years on the job, decides to become a priest, hoping to help people in a new way.
Playing the title character was Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy, who Levy saw as a new kind of TV screen presence with the gravitas of Raymond Burr. Levy knew Kennedy was capable of carrying a unique drama series like Burr did with Ironside.
"I set out to draw a totally unique larger-than-life character unmatched by any other in television," Levy told The Ogden Standard-Examiner in 1972.
Although Sarge was an instant hit, the show only aired for one season. If you happened to catch it, you saw many familiar faces as guest stars, including Martin Sheen, Leslie Nielsen, Ricardo Montalbán, and Happy Days patriarch Tom Bosley.
After Sarge didn’t succeed, Levy seemed to step back from TV, only credited with producing the animated 1973 The Addams Family and the Halloween with the New Addams Family special in 1977.
Through the 1990s, Levy became best-known for being critical of TV programming that he deemed too violent. His influence on TV continued to be felt through that activism, then he passed away in 2000.
In his time as a major player pulling strings at NBC, Levy may not have put out the most hits, but as The Addams Family continues to be successfully adapted into hit productions right up to this very day, he should be remembered as the man whose footsteps all these other filmmakers followed in.
Without Levy, we might never have seen The Addams Family onscreen at all.
It was in the same timeslot as Hawaii 5-O.
And there you have it.
Thank you, Thing.