CPO Sharkey

Johnny Carson used to joke that Don Rickles had had his finger in more pilots than an Air Force Proctologist. There was a time there when Rickles was appearing in an amazing array of unsold pilots and even a few that made it to series and didn’t last long. His longest run — it actually lasted a year and a half — was with CPO Sharkey, a sitcom that attempted to turn the insult comic into a latter-day Sgt. Bilko. In fact, the series was even created and masterminded by Aaron Ruben, who’d worked extensively on You’ll Never Get Rich (AKA The Phil Silvers Show, AKA Sgt. Bilko).

“CPO” stood for Chief Petty Officer. Sharkey presided over a mixed ethnic group of sailors, each of whom he derided in the Rickles style. Many of his insults were saved for Seaman Pruitt, a 6’7″ hick played by Peter Isacksen. Rickles was 5’6″ and so delivered a lot of acidic lines to Isacksen’s chest.

The show lasted 37 episodes and the above ticket was probably for one of the last ones taped. They were all done on Stage 3 at NBC, which is where Jay Leno now does his show. This is directly across the hall from Stage 1 where Johnny Carson did The Tonight Show for so many years. One of the few reasons CPO Sharkey is remembered is because of one night when Carson — allegedly spontaneously but probably planned in detail — took his cameras across the hall and interrupted a Rickles taping. The night before on Tonight, appearing with guest host Bob Newhart, Rickles had accidentally broken Carson’s cigarette box. So right in the middle of taping a scene, Don looks over and there’s Johnny Carson, walking in with a hand microphone and a busted cigarette box to demand an apology. It was very funny and the incident bolstered the ratings of CPO Sharkey…for a while. Like all TV shows starring Don Rickles, it didn’t last long.