A decade before WKRP in Cincinnati, there was another sitcom about a radio station. Good Morning World ran for a single season on CBS starting in the fall of 1967. Antenna TV is running it on weekends.
The show had a tremendous pedigree derived largely from The Dick Van Dyke Show, which had gone off the air the year before: it was executive-produced by Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard and created by Dick Van Dyke writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Reiner and longtime Dick Van Dyke director John Rich directed some episodes. Episodes were scripted by some big names, including Rick Mittleman, Bernie Orenstein and Saul Turteltaub, and James L. Brooks. Dave Grusin wrote the music. Like its predecessor, Good Morning World was filmed in front of a live audience.
The show stars Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell as Dave Lewis and Larry Clarke, morning DJs at a small station in Los Angeles. Baker worked in movies and TV from the late 50s to the early 80s, including appearances in the Elvis movie Girl Happy and Gidget Goes to Rome. Schell had been playing Duke Slater on Gomer Pyle USMC and has a face most fans of vintage TV would recognize. Billy de Wolfe plays the supercilious and bumbling station owner Roland B. Hutton, Jr. Lewis’ wife, Linda, is played by Julie Parrish. The inevitable neighbor, Sandy, is played by Goldie Hawn, in her first TV role at the age of 21.
The show is divided between wacky hijinx at the station and wacky hijinx at the Lewis house. On the air, Lewis and Clarke are more silly than funny; the producers decided not to mention real singers or songs, and the invented ones destroy any illusion that theirs is a real radio show. De Wolfe is the funniest member of the cast: Hutton wants to be in control of every situation but they often blow up in his face. The domestic scenes could have been used on The Dick Van Dyke Show almost exactly as written. Parrish does a good job in what’s mostly a thankless part, plus she looks great. Goldie is exactly who you’d expect her to be as a second banana.
While Joby Baker looks the way people in 1967 probably expected a DJ to look, he’s just not a very good actor. The character of Clarke was supposedly created especially for Ronnie Schell after his run on Gomer Pyle, where Sheldon Leonard was co-executive-producer, but Schell plays him with essentially one note. In the end, the characters of Lewis and Clarke are too much alike. It would have been better if the two leads presented more of a contrast, if wacky Clarke were balanced by a more sardonic Lewis, for example.
The show had problems from the start. Persky and Denoff were dividing time between Good Morning World and their more successful series, That Girl; Baker had trouble remembering lines; Parrish had health problems during filming. As for Goldie Hawn, Carl Reiner would later say, “George Schlatter ‘borrowed’ her for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and never gave her back to us.” So despite its solid-gold antecedents and unique setting, Good Morning World (which took its title from a phrase used by New York DJ William B. Williams, and for which he received a screen credit) lasted just 26 episodes.
Should you watch it? Sure. You might find a laugh or two along the way, and contemplating the distance between 50 years ago and now can be interesting. (Or maybe it’s just me who likes to do that.)
Related: We watch a lot of vintage TV at our house, but mostly on MeTV. The channel puts me in mind of Nick at Nite in its late 80s incarnation, or TV Land when it positioned itself as a museum of television, instead of the schizophrenic mess it is now. MeTV’s presentation says, yes, these shows are vintage, but you don’t have to think of yourself as old; let’s just have fun watching. Antenna TV, on the other hand, seems ossified. Its presentation, featuring voiceover guy Shadoe Stevens, is sleepy. And the way Antenna TV split-screens the closing credits of one program over the introduction of the next one is maddening if you consider theme songs and credits to be among of the pleasures of vintage TV.
If atmosphere matters—and on vintage TV channels, I’d argue that it does—it’s easy to understand why MeTV is the more successful of the two. In fact, MeTV is more successful than lots of other, more famous channels. In 2017, it out-rated MTV, BET, E!, Comedy Central, ESPN2, and NFL Network.