“There is an old saying that blood is thicker than water.”
Today is Thanksgiving. It’s a time that we often spend with family. On television, the biggest family for decades was the Nelsons. So here at Upcomingdiscs, we decided it was the best day to let you know that the final two seasons have finally been released, and you can now spend your holidays with Ozzie, Harriet, Rick, and David. Tomorrow we’ll start posting our suggestions for holiday gifts for your loved ones. Consider this an early start. We’ve had Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Gene Simmons with his Family Jewels, and even Snoop Dog’s Father Hood. It’s become a bit of a trend to follow these celebrity families around and watch the drama of their privileged lives unfold on our television screens. You might think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but would you believe they were doing it back in the infant days of television when we followed around a musician named Ozzie and his wife way back in 1952? No, we’re not talking about Ozzie Osbourne and his family. I’m talking about Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. They were television’s darling family before we ever heard about Lucy and Desi. The show actually started on radio like many of the fledgling industry’s early hits including the likes of Gunsmoke. Four years after the radio brought us The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, they moved to television. While their two sons were played by actors on the radio, both David and Ricky Nelson joined the television show, and it went on to make television history, breaking records, some still held today. It was the first television series to ever hit 10 seasons, finishing with 14, still a sitcom record. It lasted from 1952 to 1966, with 436 episodes. Until The Simpsons, it was the longest running scripted television comedy and remains still the longest live-action scripted comedy ever on television. And while the stories were, of course, fictional, most aspects of the show were quite real. Their television home was modeled after their real home. Many of the family’s life stories found their way to the series. The four family members were quite real, and you just couldn’t fake these relationships.
As time went on, the series would change. In the 60’s, now-teenaged Ricky would go from the little brother to the star of the show and become television’s first teen idol. Long before David Cassidy or Davey Jones, there was Ricky Nelson. The show started to take advantage of his status and began to work his performances of his own music into the episodes. Ricky would have a pretty solid career. He was in the middle of a 1980’s comeback after a hit with Garden Party when his airplane crashed and killed him and his wife, who would also be a part of the show as Ricky’s wife toward the end of the series. The series found a new life in syndication in the 1970’s, which is where I first encountered the series. The syndication packages often ignored the early shows before Ricky took off for stardom, so I only got to see those episodes, and that was many years ago.
Ozzie and Harriet’s grandson and Ricky’s son, Sam Nelson, went on a seven-year journey to hunt down the original elements to all 436 episodes and begin to restore them. He found them often in horrible climate conditions and in great need of restoration, so he took on that task as well. I had a chance to talk to Sam about that process, and you can listen to that conversation Here. That process is now complete, and it’s a big part of television history that you can now add to your home video shelves.
The family is seldom depicted together anymore. With David and Rick both married, there are many episodes that pretty much deal with their married lives. David is married to June Blair, his real life spousen and Rick to Kris Harmon, yeah, Mark’s older sister. Dave is now a full lawyer and partner at the firm. In fact you won’t see Mr. Kelly any longer. Dave is pretty much in charge, and Rick is now his law clerk. Those stories ended up being some of the best. It might have made an interesting spin-off series. There is less of Ricky playing music in both of these seasons. All of the performances hinge on about four or five songs that do get repeated. From week to week that might not have been so bad, but from 20 minutes to 20 minutes, I ended up skipping past those repeated performances.
Season 13 brings Lost In Space’s Bill Mumy on as a member of the Tigers, a club of young boys that have often served as a foil for Ozzie over the years.
Of course, the biggest change to the show happened in that 14th and final season. The series made the jump to color, and it sure is startling. The show was shot on 35mm film, and the color stock of those days was quite over-saturated, and so their world goes from grayscale to almost dreamlike reality. I found that there is a lot of green on he season, which is fine with me, as it happens to be my favorite color. Several of the sets were rebuilt. That’s most obviously true of The Malt Shop and the frat house, where we finally get to see the famed Blue Moose in its full blue glory. Going from Season 13 to Season 14 will be quite a shock. I’m sure that they had no idea this would be the final season. It doesn’t appear very likely they would have gone through such expense and effort if they had known it was all for a single season. There is one black & white episode that was really a holdover from the previous season due to an unexpected preemption. You’ll also see very little of June Blair in this year of color. She was pregnant with their second son, who was born just as the season ended. We get the typical attempts to hide the condition through obstacles and loose clothing.
It’s a wrap for the Nelson family. A few years later Ozzie and Harriet returned for a single season of Ozzie’s Girls. With both of their sons out of the house and no longer a part of the show, the couple take in two young girl borders. The show never quite caught on, and that was finally the end. It started on radio and then comic books and television shows. For a while the Nelsons were likely the most recognized family on the planet. Now they serve as wonderful television nostalgia and gave us “the longest runtime on television”.