20150808

McMILLAN & WIFE

Marshall McLuhan maintained, "The historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads for our society are the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities." It had been said, "Television sneaked up on us and changed the world. It has changed us all...From Guttenberg to Gattegno, print has had a corner on knowledge and a monopoly on communication...Many kinds of experience enhance the quality of human life. Reading is certainly one of them. But television is one of them, too – or at least it can be." James Macdonald believed, "The written word has served civilization well. It was the basic way of communication that freed man from his tribal state of dependence upon oral traditions. It freed the individual to define himself as a separate person and to develop outside the context of the tribe. This type of communication has now run its course, and the electronic media have carried us into a new culture." 

Leonard Stern created the TV series, 'Get Smart' which ran between 1965 and 1970. He argued, "The TV business is the unthinking reporting to the uninformed and supervised by the unimaginative." His book, 'A Martian Wouldn't Say That' was published in 1994. "When I started," Leonard recounted, "we were protected by the stars or the creators of the shows. While memos were sent, they were in the main disregarded. (Jackie) Gleason did the show he wanted to do. There were many visionaries. That's what's absent today (in 1994). Throughout TV history there have been executives who have great compatibility and affection for the creative process and don't try to overwhelm it, but work with it." 

In the 1970s, Leonard created 'McMillan & Wife', one of the 3-in-1 movie-length series shown on television on a rotating basis with 'Columbo' and 'McCloud'. 'McMillan & Wife' ran between 1971 and 1977. Rock Hudson made his TV debut playing the San Francisco Police Commissioner Stewart McMillan. Leonard made the comment in 1977, "It's an absurd word, but I look for mischief in the eyes and interplay of an actor. It's so hard to find an actor who can convey a sense of charm. There aren't many light, charming comedies still being done where you can hone that talent. Rock is an actor who was weaned on light comedy and farce. He was able to make the transition to this show with ease. Do you realize that most of his peers from those earlier days are now in their 70s. And there are few replacements coming along." 

Susan Saint James played Sally said in 1972, "People ask me what I am. I answer with 'Who knows?'. That slows them down. I really don't know. If a part is serious I get real serious. If it's light, I'm after laughs. And once I get into a character I like to stay there and not jump around into other roles. My training is all speed. Get it out to meet the TV show deadline. If only I had one-half credit time at the end of a show to explain to the public what we did because of lack of time. But that's dreaming. I'm really like those TV actors who turn into monsters and become pretentious when they land a movie role because they have so much time to prepare. I'm the kind who would die of a nervous collapse for being so relaxed before the cameras." 

In an interview with Newsday in 1976, Rock remarked, "We shoot so much per day that you just can't keep track. We shoot 10 or 12 pages of dialog a day, where on a film you shoot 3, maybe. I mean, you could have in a western one sentence that says, 'The Indians attack the fort'. And that could take 2 weeks. On TV, it all runs together. You become just like a robot. I don't mean to sound like I'm objecting, I'm not. But I'm trying to explain the difference." Rock conceded in 1971, "I'm used to 20 years of knowing scenes in advance." 

John Schuck played Sergeant Enright observed, "TV is a wonderful living. It can be challenging. A series is a gamble. There's nothing common-sensical about what stays on the air and what doesn't." He reasoned at the time, "The whole network system is declining. Producing and marketing is undergoing a revolution." Hatter Frank Olive reiterated, "Maybe not like doing the finest painting but making money is creative as I've discovered too late in my life. I was a very inventive person. I came (to New York) to learn how to take creativity and marry it to productivity. Today (in 1979) a designer is not just a designer. He has to be involved with banking, has to travel, has to be a public relations man. You can't be isolated. At one time when I went to school, they taught me how to sketch and make a pattern and you thought that was going to get you through life. You have to know your public...you study to know what your customers' needs are." Barbara Feldon made the point, "Once I reported for a commercial in which they wanted to use only one of my eyes. All I had to do was close the eye and open it. I worked a half-hour and for a whole year I collected $200 a week as the commercial was played. I made more money working 3 days a year for Revlon than I did working 30 weeks at 13 hours a day during the first season of 'Get Smart.'"

Rock confessed, "I try (to assert influence over scripts). Although I can't write (scripts), and I realize the show is very difficult to write. It's a mystery and a comedy and the accent is on solving the crime or there isn't going to be a show in the first place. So concentrate, I keep saying, on the comedy. Let's not worry about solving the crime, let's just have fun solving it, and in that way we'll remain unique. We're the only comedy-type police show and there's a plethora of police shows on TV these days (in 1976). So let's have fun with ours."

Susan Saint James decided not to return to the show after her contract expired in 1976. Producer Jon Epstein told the Pittsburg Press TV and radio editor Barbara Holsopple: "I have 3 choices. Either it's not talked about at all, or we have her deceased or divorced. We thought about killing her off – a great attention-getter, but so down. This is an upbeat, light-hearted show." In the end, the series returned as 'McMillan' with a new format.

'McMillan & Wife' was based loosely on 'The Thin Man' with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Ken Howard and Blythe Danner were first approached to play McMillan and wife. Rock made the observation in 1971, "Chemistry is all. If we fail there, the game is over. This is a very adult love story. I wouldn't say we've been married 5 or 6 years. The wife is younger, exuberant, and a constant pleasure for McMillan, and she knows it. My character is a total husband to her, and the 2 spend a good deal of time showing they love each other, and make a joke out of it, avoiding the clich├ęs."

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