Danny Thomas Show, The

The Danny Thomas Show started out on ABC in 1953 as Make Room for Daddy. The show revolved around the home life of nightclub entertainer Danny Williams, and the original title was derived from a situation in Thomas’s own home life. For several years, the only way he could make a living was “on the road,” and he was away from his Los Angeles home and family for weeks, sometimes months at a time. Whenever he was about to return for a while, his family would scurry about their house to clear closet and drawer space for him, and they’d say, “Make room for Daddy.”

ABC originally contracted for a sitcom with a different premise but the assigned writer, Mel Shavelson, was having trouble making it work. One day in a meeting, Danny pleaded with him to find a way because he was counting on a hit series to enable him to stay home with his family. He told Shavelson some anecdotes about the problems he was having and the writer said, in effect, “That’s a much better idea for a show.” So art imitated life and the storyline was switched. The resultant series achieved modest ratings, and some of those involved believed the network only kept it on because a top ABC exec had a crush on actress Jean Hagen, who played Danny’s wife.

In 1956, however, Ms. Hagen decided she wanted out and in what may have been a television “first,” it was announced that her character had died. The show became the story of widower Danny dating new women, trying to find a second wife for himself and a mother for his kids. ABC decided America didn’t care; that without Jean Hagen, there was no show so they cancelled it. Thomas would later attribute what happened next to his prayers to St. Jude, but it was more likely the work of his much-more-powerful agent, Abe Lastfogel. CBS picked up what was now called The Danny Thomas Show and the 1957 season opener was about him returning from his honeymoon with one of the women he’d dated, a nurse played by Marjorie Lord. (Reruns of earlier shows were being syndicated under the Make Room for Daddy title. Some people would never stop calling it that.)

On CBS and in a better time slot, the show flourished and rode high atop the ratings until it ended in 1965. By that time, it had made Thomas (and his partner, Sheldon Leonard, who’d appeared on the show and directed many episodes) moguls in television production. Bill Dana, Joey Bishop and Andy Griffith had all appeared on The Danny Thomas Show in roles calculated to lead to spin-offs, and spin off they did: The Bill Dana Show, The Joey Bishop Show and The Andy Griffith Show. The latter spin-off even spun-off a spin-off with Gomer Pyle, USMC. The Thomas-Leonard company produced others, as well, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, which filmed on the adjoining stage.

The best thing about The Danny Thomas Show was probably the supporting cast, especially Sid Melton as the nervous owner of a local nightclub where Danny Williams played, and Pat Carroll as his wife. The greatest joy came in the occasional appearances of Hans Conried as Danny’s flamboyant Uncle Tonoose. He would make grand entrances, bursting in the front door with suitcases that suggested a long visit as he proclaimed loudly, “Tonoose is here!” Thomas himself was a good, likeable straight man for the crazies around him and his comic timing carried a lot of contrived story premises. The show pretty much lasted until TV outgrew a taste for warm family comedies where the father is a bit of a jackass but does the right thing in the last scene.

In 1970, ABC revived the show they should never have let get away in the first place with Make Room for Granddaddy but its era had long passed. One season and out.