Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Season Wonderful: Richard Benjamin & Paula Prentiss in 'He & She'

Opening balloons
There is something so sweet but sophisticated about 'He & She' starring Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss. The show only lasted one season. But as an avid watcher of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show', and while currently watching my grainy, poor-quality episodes of this rare show, I've noticed striking similarities between them. 

'He & She' is the direct predecessor of 'The MTM Show'. Mary Richards, Rhoda Morgenstern and every one of the WJM News crew in Minneapolis (especially Ted Baxter) might not have existed if it weren't for Dick and Paula Hollister. Or Oscar North a.k.a. Jetman. 
Dick and Paula at home tolerating the antics of Oscar/Jetman
As I'd mentioned in a previous post, even the interior of the New York City apartment where Dick and Paula live resembles the Minnesota lair of Mary Richards. At first, it's disarming to see the same windows, the front door in just the same place, the little platform and stairs leading to the door –– and Dick or Paula (especially Paula) frequently bounding toward the door in much the same way that many of us have become accustomed to seeing Mary Richards doing in nearly every episode. 

Even Paula Hollister's physicality and style is a reflection of what was to come with Mary. Long-limbed, she is usually wearing above-the-knee skirts or shift dresses with various levels of opaqueness in her hosiery; shoes with a slight heel. Her hair has that soon-to-be-exceedingly-famous flip. At a peripheral glance, as Paula rushes to the door in 'He & She', one can't help but think of Mary. 

Mary's apartment is nearly identical to Dick and Paula's
Paula's style and hair flip, similar to Mary's in Season 1
I also can't help but think it's a shame that 'He & She', despite being critically acclaimed and endearing to those who watched it when it aired, receiving five Emmy nominations in 1968 (it won for best comedy writing, while Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jack Cassidy were all nominated for their acting) –– and for just being all around great –– never had the chance to become a lengthier series we can now freely reference in our culture, as well. 

'He & She' aired on CBS following the popular 'Green Acres'. It's been said that Richard Benjamin, for one, (and rightfully so) believes that having had the opposing energy of the city-life sophistication of 'He & She' following a show so completely different in comedic tone was detrimental to their ratings. (On a side note, it seems like CBS has had quite a history of this sort of problematic decision making. So you'd think they'd have learned by now.)
TV Guide cover with 'He & She'
The show is a bubbly confection. But it is also very well written and acted. I have found myself getting somewhat choked up by numerous supporting performances, whilst Dick and Paula stand aside, soaking in the moment with great empathy. The acting couple had been married in real life almost twice as long by 1968 as the fictional couple in the show. Their characters are presumably in their late twenties and have been married for five years. They live in New York. Paula is from the south, as she is in real life –– and Dick is a born and bred New Yorker, just as he is in real life. 
A still from the show's adorable closing credits
Their onscreen chemistry –– and individual comedic timing –– are terrific, but having some of the backstory of where their life together had led them until that point in time makes watching the show all the more intriguing. 

In some ways, art doesn't imitate life, since in the show Dick plays a cartoonist who's created the comic strip 'Jetman'. His 'Jetman' comic is now a TV show that stars the bombastic Oscar North, who directly inspires the Ted Baxter personality in 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' (Jack Cassidy, who plays Oscar North, even appeared on 'MTM' as Ted Baxter's brother.)
If it weren't for 'He & She', which was a little too sophisticated and ahead of its time, would 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' have existed? Or later in the 90's, 'Mad About You'?  Of course, a major revolutionary element of the 'MTM' show was that they built the show solely around the female character who had never married and was making her way in the world without a male counterpart. Instead, she interacted with her friends, neighbors and coworkers. So The MTM Show did up the ante, in that regard, forever changing TV in its own way in 1970 when the first season aired. 

In any case, 'He & She' brought a fabulous precedent to TV and set the bar high enough for similar shows that followed to become as great as they were.
A still from the equally adorable opening credit
I will follow this with some clips of the show from the DVD's, recorded from TV reruns, that I painstakingly sought (and happily found.) But apologies in advance for the poor quality. Yet another result of this show having gone unrecognized is there hasn't been enough demand for it to have ever made it to DVD. Or even videocassette! I'll do my best to upload as much of it as possible so that more people can watch and enjoy it! :) Meanwhile, here is a CBS promo for the series.

2 comments:

  1. For the first time ever, a guide to the best episodes from one of the best single season multi-camera sitcoms of all time, HE & SHE (1967-1968)! Check it out here: http://jacksonupperco.com/2014/05/06/the-twelve-best-episodes-of-he-she/

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Not sure why I'm just seeing it now... I will check out your link! :)

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