The Odd Couple
Synopsis of TV Show
"Stuff your sorrys in a sack, Mister."
Playwright Neil Simon’s pitch to Paramount executives was simple: two men—one divorced, one estranged, and neither quite sure why their marriages fell apart—move in together to save money for alimony, and suddenly discover they’re having the same conflicts and fights they had in their marriages. It was based on Simon’s own brother’s real-life experiences, and the possibilities for comedy were obviously rife. Paramount liked what they heard and funded the play, which ran from 1965 to 1967. The Odd Couple then became a 1968 movie, which starred Walter Matthau as the slob named Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as neat-freak Felix Unger—just one of many comedy teamings for the two actors.
But if it worked on stage and on the big screen, why not have a go at the small screen too? And so they did. The Dick Van Dyke Show vets Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson produced, and The Odd Couple made its TV debut in September of 1970. Though some of the producers wanted Art Carney and Martin Balsam to play the leads, and ABC wanted Tony Randall and Mickey Rooney, the casting gods deemed that Jack Klugman play Oscar, the gruff writer for the fictional New York Herald, and Tony Randall play Felix, the compulsively tidy photographer.
There was plenty of lighthearted “the slob vs. the neat-freak” comedy, but the show went well beyond just that—there was also relevant and biting comedy about sex, work, divorce and that ubiquitous comedy source, getting old. It was also known for its one-liners…the notorious “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and of me” zinger is now a part of our everyday vernacular. Both Klugman and Randall won Emmys for their roles, and theirs are the mugs most of us call to mind when the words “odd” and “couple” are uttered.
Other memorable characters included Murray the cop, Speed, Roy and Vinnie, all of whom came over for the poker games that Oscar hosted. Garry Marshall’s little sister Penny (later the “Laverne” half of Laverne and Shirley) played Myrna, Oscar’s secretary; the Pigeon sisters were the two zany Brits who lived upstairs; Nancy Cunningham was Oscar’s girlfriend, and Brett Sommers (Klugman’s real-life wife) played Blanche, his ex-wife; Miriam was Felix’s girlfriend and Gloria was his ex.
This sizeable cast of supporting players added plenty of zest to the show, but the meat and potatoes was our mismatched roommate tandem. The weekly personality clashes kept viewers in stitches, and surprisingly for a sitcom, neither Oscar nor Felix ever learned to appreciate the other. There were no hugs, no end-of-show talks about life lessons gleaned in the past half hour, just all-out warfare between the slob and the fop. In the final episode, Felix moved out to remarry Gloria, and Oscar retired to the apartment alone, messily overjoyed that finally, no one was around to nag him about his habits.
Though ratings tapered off by the end of its five-year run, The Odd Couple’s popularity took flight in syndication, which is where the lion’s share of its fans fell in love with it. Klugman, after struggling with the first of several rounds of throat cancer, came back to television in Quincy M.E., and Randall appeared in his own self-titled show, as well as Love, Sidney. From 1975 to 1977, there was an Saturday morning animated spin-off called The Oddball Couple, and in 1982, producer Jerry Belson resurrected the series as The New Odd Couple, recasting the two leads with African-American actors Ron Glass and Desmond Wilson. Klugman and Randall came back to their old roles in 1992, when they starred in a special two hour reunion movie called The Odd Couple: Together Again.
To this day, we refer to slobs as "Oscars" and any self-respecting slob's nightmare-neat antithesis as a "Felix." And when a show's characters become a part of everyday vernacular, you know they've also etched themselves permanently in TV-ers' memories.
Release History of Prime Time Show9/24/70 - 7/4/75 ABC
TV Sub Categoriescomedy
TV CastFelix Unger Tony Randall
Oscar Madison Jack Klugman
Cecily Pigeon (1970-71) Monica Evans
Murray Greshler Al Molinaro
Roger (1973-74) Archie Hahn
Speed (1970-74) Garry Walberg
Vinnie Larry Gelman
Gloria Unger (1971-75) Janis Hansen
Dr. Nancy Cunningham (1970-72) Joan Hotchkis
Myrna Turner (1971-75) Penny Marshall
Roy (1970-71) Ryan McDonald
Gwendolyn Pigeon (1970-71) Carole Shelley
Blanche Madison Brett Somers
Miriam Welby (1972-74) Elinor Donahue
Edna Unger (1970-71) Pamelyn Ferdin
Edna Unger (1972-75) Doney Oatman
Dr.Melnitz (1972-75) Bill Quinn
Narrator William Woodson