Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Danny Kaye Sitcom That Almost Was

A new Danny Kaye Show was planned in 1986 as a spin-off of The Cosby Show.

Inspired by the mid-1980s success of the family-friendly Cosby Show, Danny Kaye seriously considered starring in his own self-titled family-friendly situation comedy for NBC.

To that point, Danny had limited experience with sitcoms. He’d guested in episodes of The Jack Benny Show and The Lucy Show in the early 1960s, as payback for guest spots on his variety series. But the rest of his TV work was specials and a handful of spots on talk shows and variety programs.

So the idea was to put him on an episode of the top-rated Cosby Show, to gauge his comfort level and the audience’s reaction. The episode, which aired in February 1986, was sort of a quasi-pilot called "The Dentist," with Danny playing the Huxtables’ unorthodox dentist, Dr. Burns.

The show was well received, but rather than feature the character in a true spin-off, work began on a true pilot for his own series, The Danny Kaye Show.

As lead writer/producer, Kaye looked to Ernie Chambers, who was a writer on the first three years of Kaye’s 1960s variety series, then left to produce its summer replacement, The John Gary Show (bankrolled by Danny’s company, Dena Productions). Chambers then went on to produce other variety series (Joey Bishop Show, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, etc.), before branching into sitcoms and specials.

Chambers was joined by Carol Burnett Show veteran Saul Turteltaub and his writing partner, Bernie Orenstein, who had first written together, then produced together, on That Girl, and had continued to write and produce together ever since.

Their idea was to mix the wacky character he played on Cosby with many of Danny’s own personality traits and hobbies. Kaye would play Dr. Henry Becker, a baseball-loving, French pastry cooking pediatrician at a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh.

They completed their 30-minute pilot script on August 26, 1986. Unfortunately, in just the few months since Cosby, Kaye’s health seriously deteriorated. He had undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery three years prior, during which a tainted blood transfusion gave him hepatitis C. Six months after receiving the script, he was dead. The Cosby Show would be Danny’s final appearance.

Interestingly, if the sitcom would have ever happened, it would have been the fifth time Kaye had starred in a "Danny Kaye Show," following his radio show of the 1940s, his stage act of the 1950s and 1960s, a TV special of the early 1960s, and his TV variety series of the mid-1960s.

2 comments:

  1. Darn, I think that would've made a great show! Better then "Mr. Belvedere"! I just found this blog, I am so happy to find a Danny blog on Blogger! If I do a Danny post, I will surely post a link to this blog! Love it! :)

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  2. Welcome aboard! Keep us posted!

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