The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is an American sitcom, airing on ABC from October 3, 1952 through March 26, 1966, starring the real life Nelson family. After a long run on radio, the show was brought to television where it continued its success, running on both radio and television for a few years. The series stars Ozzie Nelson and his wife, singer Harriet Nelson (née Snyder, professionally Hilliard), and their young sons, David and Eric "Ricky" Nelson. Don DeFore had a recurring role as the Nelsons' friendly neighbor "Thorny".
Currently, reruns of the show are broadcast on Retro Television Network.
In the early 1930s, a booking at the Glen Island Casino gained national network radio exposure for Ozzie Nelson's orchestra. After three years together with the orchestra, Ozzie and Harriet signed to appear regularly on The Baker's Broadcast (1933-1938), hosted first by Joe Penner, then by Robert L. Ripley, and finally by cartoonist Feg Murray. The couple married on October 8, 1935 during this series run, and realized working together in radio would keep them together more than continuing their musical careers separately. In 1941, the Nelsons joined the cast of The Red Skelton Show, also providing much of the show's music. The couple stayed with the series for three years. They also built their radio experience by guest appearances, together and individually, on many top radio shows, from comedies such as The Fred Allen Show, to the mystery titan Suspense, in a 1947 episode called "Too Little to Live On".
When Red Skelton was drafted in March 1944, Ozzie Nelson was prompted to create his own family situation comedy.The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet launched October 8, 1944 on CBS, it moved to NBC in October 1948, then made a late-season switch back to CBS in April 1949. The final years of the radio series were on ABC (the former NBC Blue Network) from October 14, 1949 to June 18, 1954. In total 402 radio episodes were produced. In an arrangement that amplified the growing pains of American broadcasting, as radio "grew up" into television, the Nelsons' deal with ABC gave the network the option to move their program to television. The struggling network needed proven talent that was not about to defect to the more established and wealthier networks like CBS or NBC.
The Nelsons' sons, David and Ricky, did not join the cast until the radio show's fifth year (initially appearing on the February 20, 1949 episode, ages 12 and 8, respectively). The two boys were played by professional actors prior to their joining because both were too young to perform. The role of David was played by Joel Davis from 1944 until 1945 when he was replaced by Tommy Bernard. Henry Blair appeared as Ricky. Other cast members included John Brown as Syd "Thorny" Thornberry, Lurene Tuttle as Harriet's mother, Bea Benaderet as Gloria, Janet Waldo as Emmy Lou, and Francis "Dink" Trout as Roger. Vocalists included Harriet Nelson, The King Sisters, and Ozzie Nelson. The announcers were Jack Bailey and Verne Smith. The music was by Billy May and Ozzie Nelson. The producers were Dave Elton and Ozzie Nelson. The show's sponsors included International Silver Company (1944-49), H.J. Heinz Company (1949-52) and Lambert Pharmacal's Listerine (1952-54).
In 1952, the Nelsons starred with Rock Hudson in the Universal-International feature film, Here Come the Nelsons. The film depicted Ozzie as an advertising executive assigned to a campaign promoting women's underwear. The film, produced in the summer of 1951 while the radio show was on hiatus, opened theatrically on February 23, 1952. It also doubled as a "pilot" for the television series, as Ozzie wanted to see if his family would be accepted on film as they were on radio. The success of Here Come the Nelsons convinced him that Ozzie & Harriet's future was on the small screen, while continuing their weekly radio show.
Before the show aired, Ozzie Nelson persuaded ABC to agree to a 10-year contract that paid the Nelsons whether the series was canceled or not. The unprecedented contract and Ozzie's insistence on perfection in the show's production paid off in the show's remarkable longevity.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered on ABC on October 10, 1952, staying until September 3, 1966. The show strove for realism and featured exterior shots of the Nelsons' actual southern California home at 1822 Camino Palmero Street in Los Angeles as the fictional Nelsons' home. Interior shots were filmed on a sound stage recreated to look like the real interior of the Nelsons' home. Like its radio predecessor (which finally ended in 1954), the series focused mainly on the Nelson family at home, dealing with run-of-the-mill problems. As the series progressed and the boys grew up, storylines involving various characters were introduced. Many of the series storylines were taken from the Nelsons' real life. When the real David and Rick got married, to June Blair and Kristin Harmon respectively, their wives joined the cast of Ozzie and Harriet, and the marriages were written into the series. What was seldom written into the series was Ozzie's profession or mention of his lengthy and successful band-leading career. The popular joke about his career was that the only time he left the house was to go buy ice cream. According to his granddaughter, actress Tracy Nelson, Ozzie went to Rutgers to study law and when pressed would tell interviewers that the TV Ozzie was a lawyer.
Supporting cast members (some appearing in more than 50 episodes over ten years) included Don DeFore, Parley Baer, Lyle Talbot, Mary Jane Croft, Skip Young, Gordon Jones, James Stacy, Joe Flynn and Jack Wagner.
By the mid-1960s, America's social climate was changing, and the Nelsons' all American nuclear family epitomized the 1950s values and ideals that were quickly becoming a thing of the past. Ozzie, who wrote and directed all of the series' episodes, attempted to change with the times, but most viewers related the show to a bygone era. The series cracked the top thirty programs in the Nielsen ratings for the first and only time during its eleventh season (1963-1964), when it ranked in 29th place. The show finally made the transition from black-and-white to color in its 1965-66 season. In that season, Ozzie tried to recapture the series' earlier success portraying a young, growing family by introducing 9-year old Joel Davison and other boys to interact with the Nelsons and create the illusion of a younger family. Joel appeared in three episodes, but it was too late to reverse the declining ratings, and ABC canceled Ozzie and Harriet in 1966.
The show ran for a total of fourteen television seasons and holds the record as the longest running American sitcom in television history.
In 1973, David Nelson produced a short-lived syndicated spin-off entitled Ozzie's Girls, in which Ozzie and Harriet rented the boys' old room to two college students, portrayed by Susan Sennett and Brenda Sykes. Storylines centered around the Nelsons attempting to aid in the problems of two girls after having raised two sons. The series' original pilot episode was shown on NBC in September 1972, but the network declined to schedule a weekly series. The unsold pilot, however, generated enough interest for Ozzie to bypass the network in favor of producing the show for syndication (through Viacom and Filmways).
The series premiered on local stations, including New York's WABC-TV, in September 1973, but was cancelled after one season in September 1974.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made the Nelsons' younger son, Rick, into a music teen idol. Ozzie realized the impact his musically gifted son could bring to the series, and went on to write storylines featuring Rick singing. Rick first sang in the April 10, 1957, episode, "Ricky the Drummer," performing a version of Fats Domino's hit, "I'm Walkin", and later signed a recording contract with Domino's label, Imperial Records. Subsequent episodes that aired after Rick became one of the nation's most successful musicians were some of the show's highest-rated episodes.
Television and home video releases:
Most of the pre-1964 episodes of the television series are in the public domain in the United States, except for the musical performances of Ricky Nelson included in the episodes (these are the exclusive and sole property of The Rick Nelson Company, LLC). Many episodes have been unofficially released on home video, including VHS and DVD, on many different low-budget company labels. Sixteen DVDs containing episodes from the show are available from Alpha Video. One hundred of the episodes in the public domain have been released on DVD by Mill Creek Entertainment as part of the Essential Ozzie & Harriet Collection.
The Rick Nelson Company, LLC, currently owns the rights to the original film elements. An officially released video version of The Best of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was released May 1, 2007 by Shout! Factory under license from The Rick Nelson Company. Both the Nelson company and David Nelson's trust hold copyright ownership for any new material derived from the film elements. Rick Nelson's son, Sam, is currently heading a project to digitize all 435 episodes from the original 35mm network negatives.
Episodes of the television series have been screened at the non-profit Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention held annually in Aberdeen, Maryland. 16 mm prints were used.
Collector/historian Martin Grams, Jr. presently owns more than 12 storage bases of production materials, scripts, casting call sheets, contracts, telegrams, letters and other materials significant to the radio and television series.
Author Jim Cox wrote an article for SPERDVAC's Radiogram in early 2008, discussing the cultural significance of the radio program.
In the decades since the show's cancellation, the series has been continuously shown on stations in public domain prints. Between 1985 and 1994, The Disney Channel aired the show as remastered from original 35 mm film elements, with new introductions by Harriet Nelson.
The series was also aired on the Nostalgia TV Network and currently airs on the Retro Television Network (RTV) at 7:30 p.m. EST Monday-Friday.
PBS member station KVCR-TV in San Bernardino, California (in the Los Angeles market) aired the show as late as May 2010, connected to the station's nostalgic television series, I Remember Television.
The Nelsons' post-TV lives:
Ozzie Nelson continued to work in show business after the failure of the short lived sitcom Ozzie's Girls. He took on the role of producer and director for some of TV's popular shows, most notably: Adam-12, The D.A., and Bridget Loves Bernie. In 1975, Ozzie Nelson died of liver cancer at the age of 69.
In the years after Ozzie and Harriet was canceled, Rick Nelson's career and personal life changed drastically. Rick never regained the same momentum of his early career, though he continued to pursue a career in music. He shied away from his teen idol image and sound, forming the rock and roll/country fused Stone Canyon Band. Rick and the Stone Canyon Band had success with the 1972 single, "Garden Party". Ironically, Rick and the Band wrote the song in response to having been booed off the stage at a rock and roll revival concert at Madison Square Garden when he refused to play his old hits from his teen idol days. Throughout the 1970s, Rick's life was riddled with debt and drug abuse. In 1981, he and wife Kristin Harmon divorced. While touring the United States, Rick Nelson was killed in a plane crash on December 31, 1985, in DeKalb in Bowie County near Texarkana, Texas in northeast Texas. He was en route to a New Year's Eve concert in Dallas. In 1987, he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Following Ozzie's death in 1975, Harriet became somewhat reclusive. In 1989, she made her last onscreen appearance in her granddaughter Tracy Nelson's TV series, Father Dowling Mysteries. Harriet never fully recovered from son Rick's death and she died of congestive heart failure and emphysema in 1994.
Ozzie, Harriet, and Rick are interred together in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
David Nelson continued to produce feature films and television commercials and owned his commercial production company until his death from cancer in January 2011.
The series attracted large audiences, and although it was never a top-ten hit, it became synonymous with the 1950s ideal American family life. It is the longest-running live-action sitcom in US television history.