Love on a Rooftop
The Flying Nun
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
Television adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1936 film starred Monte Markham as a newspaper publisher who inherited a huge corporation from his late uncle. Also starring Pat Harrington, Jr.
The Partridge Family
Bridget Loves Bernie
The Girl With Something Extra
Irregularly scheduled sitcom starring Carl Reiner as Mr. Angel, a representative from the afterlife who returns to earth to grant good wishes to deserving people.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Bernard Slade is one of Hollywood’s most prolific writers. After writing over twenty one-hour television shows for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he began his career in Hollywood as a writer and story editor on Bewitched, (where he introduced the world to Aunt Clara). He has created eight television series: Love On A Rooftop, The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family, Getting Together, Bridget Loves Bernie, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, The Girl With Something Extra, and Good Heavens. As a Broadway playwright, he made his debut writing Same Time Next Year, which was nominated for a Tony Award, won a Drama Desk Award and has been presented in over 40 languages worldwide. His screenplay for the movie was nominated for an Academy Award. His next play, Tribute starred Jack Lemmon on both stage and screen. Other plays include Romantic Comedy, Special Occasions, Fatal Attraction, An Act of the Imagination, Return Engagements, Every Time I See You, and a sequel to Same Time Next Year, titled Same Time, Another Year. Mr. Slade spoke with Scott Awley and cmongethappy.com in March 2000.
Get Happy: Where did you get the inspiration for The Partridge Family?
Bernard Slade: Well, I'll tell you what it was. I'm from Canada. I had written a number of hour-long plays up there. I did an hour television show about a vocal group called "The Big Coin Sound", which was a phrase used in a Variety review. When I came down here, I thought the idea of doing a situation comedy using music was a good idea. At the time, The Sound of Music was very popular. Then one night on the Carson show, I saw this family group called the Cowsills. I thought it was interesting. So all three ideas kind of came together, which is usually the case. It's not usually one single idea. That really was the genesis of it all.
GH: What happened then?
BS: I wrote the script for the pilot, then we started casting. I think [executive producer] Bob Claver went to visit the Cowsills during the casting process. They thought at one point that they might cast one or two of them. Well, they found out that the Cowsills didn't really fit into any of the characters that I had written.
GH: "The Partridge Family" wasn't your first pilot for Screen Gems. How did you start with them?
BS: In those days I would do three pilots a year. I started on "Bewitched" as a story editor. From there I created "Love on a Rooftop", then "The Flying Nun". "The Partridge Family" was the third. I wrote other pilots as well, but they didn't get on the air.
GH: So you had a contract to do three pilots a year?
GH: How did that work?
BS: I would come up with a number of different ideas, and they would pick the ones they wanted. I was very new at this and I didn't realize that it was such a long shot to get something on the air, because the very first thing I ever created was "Love On A Rooftop" and it was immediately accepted. I took it all for granted.
GH: Are there any pilots that you remember NOT getting on the air?
BS: I remember writing one with Barbara Hershey called "The Princess and Me". I wrote another thing called "We Love You, Miss Murkle" that was about an eccentric teacher, which I thought was a good pilot. I also remember something that Cloris Leachman was in that didn't get on.
GH: Others that DID sell?
BS: I did a spin-off from "The Partridge Family" with Bobby Sherman called "Getting Together", and created "Bridget Loves Bernie" [with Meredith Baxter and David Birney]. Those two sold.
GH: Today, the idea of a Jewish boy marrying a Catholic girl seems so tame. Why was "Bridget Loves Bernie" so controversial back then?
BS: I have no idea. It was sort of ridiculous. I think it set some kind of a record, too, because it was in the top 10 when it was cancelled. I think it was somebody at CBS that was too nervous about the religious organizations being upset.
GH: Whose idea was it to spin-off "Getting Together" from "The Partridge Family"?
BS: Knowing the way the studios and networks think, they probably realized they could hit pay-dirt twice, especially since Bobby Sherman was a singing name with a certain following They could make money off of him, too. I never really felt that spin-offs work. You had to write a pilot, but because it had to be an episode of an existing show, you also had to work all those characters into it and tell a story. It was always a tricky proposition. But I always had an idea to do a show about a collaborative effort between two people who wrote music.
GH: Was it planned to have that a musical series too?
BS: Yes, Bobby sang. That was the idea, I think. It was about a very eccentric kid [played by Wes Stern] who wrote lyrics and Bobby Sherman putting them together with music. I looked at it about a year ago, and it wasn't bad!
GH: Were there any other attempts to do a spin-off from "The Partridge Family"?
BS: I remember we tried another one that I didn’t write, but it never amounted to anything. They tried to get a country-western music thing going. It was something like "Bobby Jo and the Big-Time Apple Band", or something like that.
GH: Was "Getting Together" your last series for Screen Gems?
BS: No, at the same time I had signed another contract for another pilot. The title kept changing and there was a falling out over that, so I didn’t stay too long. When I was with it, it was called "Everything Money Can’t Buy". It was about an angel, a total precursor to the Michael Landon show ["Highway To Heaven"]. We shot the pilot in San Francisco. Jose Ferrar was playing the angel, and Carl Reiner was directing. Carl Reiner wound up playing the angel in the series but, by that point, I had left the studio. That was called "Good Heavens" and it was on sporadically in 1976.
GH: Was it coincidental that Sally Field was in two of your series?
BS: She was one of those people that I had heard about. She just jumps off the screen. I remember seeing her in Gidget. The camera just loves her. When I created the Flying Nun, I said I would do it only if she was cast. Then she backed out, and we started with another actress named Ronne Troup. She was Bobby Troup's [Emergency!] daughter, and went on to play Chip's wife on "My Three Sons". [She also played Ricky's sister on "The Partridge Family" - ed.] Well, it wasn't working with Ronne, so they made some kind of deal with Sally, and she came in. I was always incredibly happy to have her in something I did.
GH: How involved are you in a series once it has been created and put on the air?
BS: I stayed with and wrote almost all of the episodes for "Love On A Rooftop", but generally I would do about two or three shows and then move on. If the show stayed on the air, I would come back and occasionally do a kick-off show for the new fall season.
GH: How many series have you actually had make it to the air?
BS: All together, I think I had about eight shows that became series.
Above photo: ©1997 Craig Schwartz. Courtesy of Bernard Slade